Forgetting is an easy thing to do. We are so very prone to it. Life has a way of crowding us through the tyranny of the urgent, the burden of the mundane, or the simple functioning required day to day.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is too often the reality of our existence. Yet this has real implications for us both personally and culturally.
If we become so consumed by our circumstances that we fail to be reflective, we lose something—something that makes us who we are.
It is profoundly human to remember, different from the instinctive way that dogs remember where they hid a bone or their owners’ smell. We have a God-given capacity to remember with feeling and mindfulness. We recall ideas and can assign meaning to recollections that either strengthen and affirm our values and judgments, or question and erode them.
This is a beautiful and powerful thing. Remembering can strengthen us, recenter us, and remind us of things that need to be held on to, despite the distractions of everyday life.
I believe this is the point of Memorial Day. In fact, in the past here in America and in other countries still today, this special day is often called Remembrance Day. It is a day to be mindful of the ultimate sacrifice given on the fields of battle that have preserved our freedom, advanced the cause of it for others, or liberated nations from the threat of darkness and tyranny.
One related irony is that forgetting is so easy while remembering is sometimes so hard. It requires us to stop and pause to think on things.
Memorial Day is no exception. A quick search online yielded this tidbit: ”… the weekend that marks the beginning of the summer season.”
True enough. It has certainly become part of the cultural and social rhythm of life in America. But we must not let it be solely a marker for the start of vacations and barbecues.
If we fail to remember, it is not only a slight to those who gave their lives, but it also will change us. It will cause us to hold our freedom too cheaply; view it as an entitlement granted to us by the government; or think it has been gained, preserved and secured for the future without sacrifice. Forgetting sacrifice undermines the very nature of a free society, leaving us to believe no further sacrifice is or will be required.
This is a dangerous conclusion. It will weaken our resolve. If and when we call upon our citizens to take up arms, we will find ourselves lacking what is needed most: a firm conviction that there are things in this life worth fighting and dying for. Apart from that belief, there is no freedom, no liberty, and no opportunity to build something good and noble and lasting for our children and their children.
There is too little talk of these things today. We too often take for granted what we have inherited from the men and women who gave the last full measure of devotion.
We remain a nation at war, although many have forgotten that. We still have men and women in harm’s way. They stand between us and the evil intentions of those who would do us ill and tear at freedom and the idea of human liberty in the most vulnerable parts of the world. And some of them will fall. Some will be lost. We cannot take their sacrifice for granted. We must remind ourselves and our children of the cost of freedom.
We must remember we have the luxury to argue policy—whether it be immigration, taxes or health care—because some gave all.
This Memorial Day, take the time to make it a day of remembrance, and remember this ancient truth from the Gospel of John: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
This article was originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times on May 26, 2019.
Dutch Reformed Theologian Herman Bavinck has been broadly influential to many of today’s seasoned pastors and theologians. His work on the Revelation of God and Reformed Dogmatics became standard fare