This year, May 30th is our nation’s Memorial Day, it is observed on the last Monday of May, and it honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Going back to the Civil War, where nearly 500,000 people died, women in the South tended the graves of fallen soldiers, not knowing what side they fought on. The roots of the holiday may go back to ancient times, to Jerusalem, Rome, Persia, and Greece, when people of distinction were buried in gardens or in fields where their monuments were decorated with flowers. The custom has been found throughout the world. Abraham Lincoln commemorated the dead at Gettysburg in 1863 and in May of 1865 a large group of formerly enslaved people held a parade in Charleston, South Carolina to honor fallen Union soldiers. There is debate as to the origins of the “first Memorial Day.” Originally the day was called “Decoration Day” and honored all the fallen who died in service to their country. Congress established Memorial Day as an official national holiday in 1971.
Memorial Day has evolved into a three-day weekend filled with barbecues, sports, and store discounts, but there was a time when people in small towns all across our land gathered in parks or cemeteries and heard flowery oratory, felt the stirring marches, stood in silence at the haunting notes of taps that spoke an Amen to the list of local heroes while some elderly relative sat teary-eyed on the stand.
We were there to remember our nation’s history and its heroes. But that is a part of another age. We don’t live in small towns anymore and high school bands no longer march five miles to stand among the graves of men they never knew.
So why bother with prayers for Memorial Day? Because we know how badly we need a sense of both heritage and destiny, at least a hero or two we can call to mind, an event that stands out because it was the point at which those values, which nourish us, were preserved. And because we can be no greater than the men and women we most admire.
Admiral Arleigh Burke once said, “America’s most important role in the world, almost from the day our country was born, has been the role of moral leadership…” Burke went on to say that we are to “teach our young people to believe in the responsibility of one to another; their responsibility to God, to the peoples of this world. Teach them to believe in themselves, to believe in their worth as human beings, to believe in their place in leading the world out of the darkness of oppression. Teach them to believe that no one owes us a living, but that we owe so much to others. Teach them to believe in their priceless heritage of freedom, and that it must be won anew by every generation. And teach them to believe in the United States of America. The hope of the world lies here, in our physical power, our moral strength, our integrity, and our will to assume the responsibilities that history plainly intends us to bear.”
One way to solemnly observe the day is to join people around the country who since 2000 have been asked to join in a moment of remembrance at 3:00 p.m. local time. Bells are tolled, flags are flown at half-mast until noon, and even NASCAR races are put on hold to signify this day as a day of mourning.
135,000 people visit Arlington National Cemetery over the Memorial Day weekend and 280,000 flags are placed at the headstones. The President or Vice-President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
To learn more about Memorial Day, you can read this article https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/memorial-day-history. Also, you can watch this video called “7 Things Most People Don’t Know About Memorial Day” found at https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/holidays-celebrations/a35916514/when-is-memorial-day/
Below are prayers you can use for the Memorial Day weekend:
Here Liturgical Resources fro the Diocese of Newark. https://dioceseofnewark.org/sites/default/files/resources/MemorialDay.pdf
A full service from the National Cathedral https://cathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Memorial-Day-Service-1115-5.28.17.pdf
Episcopal Church Foundation. https://www.ecfvp.org/tools/107/memorial-and-veterans-day-resources.
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