In our family’s travels, some of the most impressive, moving scenes we have witnessed were U.S. military cemeteries, such as in Luxembourg and Belgium and Arlington, Virginia. There we observed row upon row of gleaming whitewashed crosses against a background of many acres of green, manicured lawn. “From Arlington Cemetery near the nation’s capital to every military cemetery in the country (and around the world), white crosses are used to commemorate (memorialize) those who have died in the service of this country. The cross is a historic symbol of the price of freedom” (Dr. Tim Lahaye). In Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Great Britain, the Philippines and Tunisia are more than 93,000 crosses over approximately 1,000 acres of U.S. military cemeteries marking the burial sites of U.S. military young men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in fighting evil aggressors who attempted to take away not only our freedom but that of other nations. In 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery (which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army) lie the remains of more than 600,000 U.S. soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect not only us in the United States, but to protect the freedoms of our neighbors as well. An average of 28 funerals are conducted at Arlington every day!
A really awesome sight at Arlington can be observed twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year (since 1937, no matter how inclement the weather), and that is at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where guards are changed every thirty minutes. The guard takes precisely 21 steps in front of the tomb before reversing direction, alluding to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given a soldier or dignitary. The guard hesitates after his about face for twenty-one seconds before marching twenty-one steps back! (Twenty-one, is not a number chosen at random but is the sum of “1+7+7+6” and thus representative of our freedom.) Guards must be between 5’10” and 6’2” tall and have a waist size that doesn’t exceed 30”. They must commit to two years of their life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. The first six months of guard duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.
Placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a solemn ceremony conducted on Memorial Day. Military exercises are also held at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Memorial Day, and the rows upon row of shining white crosses should remind us that freedom comes with a price. Many years ago in U.S. history, John Quincy Adams said, “You’ll never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you make good use of it.” I’m afraid we don’t always follow his admonition, but we need to recognize what a price has been paid—and continues to be paid—that we may have the freedoms we have today in this country and in many other nations of the world as well that we, the United States, have helped in their time of need.
And, of course, the cross ultimately represents the very means by which each of us can experience freedom from the penalty of sin through the greatest sacrifice every made on our behalf, as Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was crucified on a a crude wooden cross, bearing our sins and dying on our behalf. Peter wrote, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (spiritually)” (I Pet. 2:24). And the Apostle Paul wrote: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). The cross is a symbol of death and sacrifice, but it is also empty for Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried but in three days rose again, the empty cross and empty grave signify a full salvation. The author of the book of Hebrews writes: “…We have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…He having offered one sacrifice for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10-14).
Love is expressed in a willingness to sacrifice for others. Thousands upon thousands have been willing to sacrifice on behalf of this nation, demonstrating their love for this country and for its people—us, and also their love for their neighbors who have been in danger from evil oppression. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). This Memorial Day, take time to reflect on the cost of freedom and our responsibility to defend and promote it—to “make good use of it” as John Quincy Adams challenged. And especially, thank God for the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf because of His great love for us— “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5: 8).
P.S. Check out online a great Memorial Day song, “In God We Trust” by Christian singer/songwriter Eric Horner