This month all across America, we will celebrate Memorial Day. The word memorial came to us from Latin, meaning ‘to belong to memory’, a calling to mind things that have taken place in the past. This holiday honors the men and women of our armed services who have died while serving in the military. I will say, if you have never observed a laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, well, there are few things that will grip your heart as will this. Moving in a way very hard to describe.
More than just remembering our honored dead, the larger lesson of Memorial Day is there are principles and values worth dying for, as did these we honor, yet the memories should serve not only as recollections of the past, but also as markers to guide the future. Our history, or at least the valiant, honorable part of that history, should command our behavior and principles today, and in perpetuity.
Christianity could almost seem a contradiction on this topic. On one hand Scripture tells us that our past is blotted out, that we are new creatures, that what we have been is not a prison keeping us from what we can be. However, just as true, we are urged, adamantly, as Jeremiah the prophet put it, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls…” (Jer. 6:16). The NIV says it, “This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…”. Sure, there are things in every past that need to be forgotten, never repeated; a time to move on. But, there is a history from which we mustn’t disconnect, for in that history is our identity, our culture, our principles, what we are supposed to go on being. As historian Daniel Boorstin said “Trying to plan for the future without knowing the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.”
Our American history, or our Christian history, these are not just memories, but vehicles carrying us to our future. Even the ugly past can serve a positive end - there are some moral failures that must never be repeated, which clearly marks what in our future to avoid.
We don’t just have a future and a past. We have a future because we have a past.