Memorial Day: Its Religious and Moral Significance

Memorial Day Observances

The Honorable Profession of Military Service

In the Gospel of Matthew, there is the account of a centurion’s servant who was paralyzed and in great pain. A centurion was the title of an officer of the Roman army, exercising authority over one hundred soldiers. The centurion approached Jesus to heal the servant (cf. Matthew 8:5-6). Jesus said, “Shall I come and heal him?” (verse 7, NIV). But the centurion was humble and a person of faith, believing that he was not worthy to have Jesus come to his house and that all Jesus had to do was speak the words of healing for the servant to become well (verses 8-9).

The Christian religion does not condemn men and women who serve their country in the military. For example, when soldiers approached John the Baptist, they asked him, “And what about us, what shall we do?” John replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay ” (Luke 3:14, NIV). John, then, did not tell the soldiers to throw away their weapons and quit military service. However, if war were wrong, John would have made that very clear in his response to the soldiers.

Soldiers and Officers Serving with Honor

Likewise, if it were wrong to be a soldier and defend one’s country, Jesus would have rebuked the centurion, saying, in effect, “Leave the military profession, because it is sinful.” But that did not happen. Rather, he praised the officer, saying, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10b, NIV).

Similarly, a man named Cornelius was also a centurion (cf. Acts, Chapter 10). In fact, he was called “a devout man, and one who feared God” (Acts 10:2). Scripture also praises soldiers, such as Gideon, Barak and Samson, saying that they “became mighty in war” and “put foreign armies to flight” (cf. Hebrews 11:32-34). Soldiers, then, can be men and women of great faith, believing in God and leading morally upright lives. Thus, military service, when carried out ethically, is a noble, not evil, vocation.

Honoring the Dead Men and Women of the Military

Being in the military or military service has made Memorial Day possible in the United State of America. American soldiers have fought and died to protect and defend the liberties, which American citizens so richly enjoy. Freedom, then, is not really free, because it comes with a “price.” In other words, someone is always “paying” for the liberties, which Americans may easily take for granted.

No Ordinary Sacrifice

The apostle Paul says to give “honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7, ESV). Thus, Memorial Day is a special time in which Americans remember to honor the men and women who lost their lives in the service of their country. Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NIV). Similarly, greater love has no person for his country than to lay down his or her life for it.

Of course, American citizens may have great love for their country, but a soldier’s sacrificial love is far greater. Therefore, freedom is not cheap. In fact, its price is costly, inestimable. It cannot be purchased with money, which is a thing. Rather, it is purchased with human flesh and blood, the ultimate sacrifice of men and women in the military. Their lives and sacrifices are infinitely greater than money or anything it can buy.