Imagine if today was just about the cookout. The crushed soda cans. The burgers. The football-throwing. Wait, imagine for a second that it’s just about the day off. The opportunity to sleep in. To not get dressed for work or make the drive in to “the grind.” Imagine if all it did was signify that ‘summer’ was here. Would that really be a “memorial day?”
I doubt it.
No, Memorial Day is about remembering those who have fallen in the service of the United States, those who protect our freedom (I argue) both home and abroad as members of the Armed Forces, the state and local police, the professional and paid firefighters. Those who allow you and I to go about our business and enjoy the freedoms of drinking Coke (or Pepsi), eating the meat we like, meeting with the people we want to, and even worshipping in the places of worship we choose to Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. We remember their sacrifice, their work, their commitment on our part. If we just take the day off, we diminish what those folks have sacrificed. If we don’t take our freedom seriously, if we abuse it or if we ignore it, we diminish what they’ve done.
Which brings me to church.
Yesterday, I preached on “Word #4,” on keeping the Sabbath. For the most part, we’ve diminished it to an hour, usually 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday. But re-read this elaboration on the Sabbath from Deuteronomy 5:12-15: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
There’s nothing there about a token acknowledgment, a “thanks for that day off this week,” a checking off of the box marked “I went to church.” No, there’s a reminder that God brought us up out of slavery, the Israelites from Egypt and Christians from sin, and we’re supposed to remember, celebrate, and be changed.
Whoa, where’s the ‘be changed’ part?
When the Israelites celebrated Sabbath, they were called to treat the sons, daughters, servants, animals, and foreigners in the same way they treated themselves.
When the Israelites celebrated Sabbath, they were to change the social and economic conditions.
If you change on Sunday [not, if you check off the box, but if you change], then don’t you think the other six days of the week should be different, too?
Today, this week, this lifetime, I hope you thank a veteran, buy a meal for someone in the service, in fire, rescue, or police. I hope you take a moment and thank God for the fact that those people do what you can’t do for yourself: allow your freedom to exist. And I hope, in thanking God, you recognize in those moments that God has made you free in a completely different, all-encompassing, eternal way: from your sin, and your shame, and the things that keep you ‘stuck.’
Happy Memorial Day, y’all. We didn’t earn it, but we receive it thanks to the grace of others… and the Other.