This is Memorial Day weekend. For many, that means heading to the beach, the mountains, or the lakes. It means an extra day off. Or maybe a barbecue, a family get-together or a sporting event.
Sadly, for others, it means partying and driving under the influence on the roads, resulting in increased arrests and inevitable (but avoidable) fatalities on the road. But let’s give this day a name that sounds a little less formal—and perhaps a bit more understandable. Memorial is based on the term “to remember.”
So let’s call today, “Memory Day.”
And what are we specifically to remember? We are to remember the courageous members of our armed forces—past and present—who have died in military service to their country. We’re speaking of grandparents, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, and grandchildren who have taken the oath to defend their country and protect the Constitution.
That doesn’t mean you have to necessarily agree with every military engagement our country has undertaken in times past—or is engaged in at present. What it does mean is that you are to remember those who have committed themselves to protect you, or even made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Such sacrifices make possible the freedoms we so richly enjoy and hold dear.
One of the greatest privileges we have in our country is the freedom to openly proclaim the gospel message and, as a pastor and evangelist, I am especially thankful for that. In places like Communist China, you can’t do that. At least, not legally. That of course has not stopped the rapid growth of the underground church, or what we often refer to as “house churches.” But freedom is indeed a precious thing, don’t you think? Far too often, we take it for granted. And we take heroes for granted, too.
What is a hero?
When we think of hero different images may come to mind. We might refer to a skilled athlete who can expertly dunk a basketball as a hero. Or maybe we would give the title hero to a rock star who can hit that power chord on his guitar. There’s even a video game that’s very popular right now called “Guitar Hero.”
These athletes, musicians and others may be famous—or infamous. But are they really heroes? In my book, a real hero is someone who makes a sacrifice. Someone who thinks of others before themselves. A person who is even willing to die for another.
Let me close with the story of a real American hero this Memory Day. His name was Ross McGinnis. You’ve no doubt have read about him recently. On duty in Iraq on December 4, 2006, PFC McGinnis was perched in the gunner’s hatch of a Humvee when a grenade whizzed past him and into the truck carrying four of his fellow soldiers.
In a split second, McGinnis did the unthinkable. He shouted a warning to the others and threw himself onto the grenade taking its full impact. He was killed immediately, but he saved the lives of the other four soldiers, his “band of brothers.” Now that’s a hero.
Ross has been given the Silver Star, posthumously, and will also receive the Medal of Honor—both richly deserved. PFC McGinnis is the kind of person we should remember this day, and the thousands of other troops stationed in faraway places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This very hour, some of them may be called upon to make terrible, self-sacrificing choices like the one PFC McGinnis made.
Go ahead, enjoy your barbeque and family. But don’t forget to remember. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Two thousand years before PFC McGinnis made the choice to lay down his life, Jesus voluntarily surrendered to a Roman cross, and died for my sin and yours. He made that choice so that we could have the hope of heaven, and know the meaning of life.
And that’s something we ought to remember on Memory Day as well.