Memorial Day in the United States had its
origins in the closing years of America’s Civil War (1861-65). In
the early spring men and women would clear the weeds from fallen
soldier’s graves and place flowers upon them. There were Ladies’
Auxiliaries formed to continue this practice. They commonly referred
to this day as "Decoration Day".
Waterloo, New York has been honored by President
Lyndon Johnson in 1966 with a Presidential Proclamation and by a
1996 Congressional "Concurrent Resolution" as "the birthplace of
Memorial Day." The city designated May 5, 1967 to honor those
soldiers who had given their lives in battle. They have continued to
do so without interruption each year, except for changing the date
to May 30th and later to the last Monday of May to
harmonize with national observance.
It has surfaced that Columbus, Georgia officially
observed a day to honor the fallen soldiers on April 26, 1967.
Perhaps other locales will come to light in time.
Memorial Day grew out of the desire of many
hearts in many places to honor those who gave their lives in a cause
they considered worth dying for. Americans still consider these
heroes worthy of a special day of honor.
Memorial Days of Scripture
The scriptures record several significant events
that were to be observed with a Memorial Day:
I. Mary’s Good Deed Became A Memorial Of Sacrificial Love.
Concerning the Passover God spoke to
Moses, "So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you
shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations.
You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance." Exodus 12:14.
Devout Jews continue to observe the ordinance after over 3400 years.
In connection with Passover, Christians observe the sacrificial
death and resurrection of Christ at Easter and the ordinance of the
As Israel prepared to cross the Jordan river and
possess the promised land God instructed the priests who carried the
Ark of the Covenant to lead the way. As they did, the Jordan stopped
flowing from above. God further instructed a man from each tribe to
carry a stone down to the bed of the Jordan and place it there.
After doing so they were to take a stone from the bed of the Jordan
and place it in a pile on the shore of Canaan. God explained, "That
this may be a sign among you, when your children ask in time to
come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall
answer them, that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the
ark of the covenant of the LORD; …and these stones shall become a
memorial to the children of Israel forever.’" Joshua 4:6,7. These
stones served as a visual object in the spiritual instruction of
each generation in Israel for many years.
Our Lord Jesus spoke of another memorial which in
many ways, is the greatest memorial of all. It took place six days
before the observance of Passover…and the crucifixion of Jesus.
At this point in time the faithful of Israel are
arriving in Jerusalem and its environs by the hundreds of thousands.
Jesus arrives in the village of Bethany located on the crest of the
Mount of Olives which overlooks Jerusalem from the East. Jesus and His disciples are joyfully received
into the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary…"whom Jesus loved." Jesus recently raised Lazarus from the dead. We can only guess at
the feelings of affection and exhilaration that filled the hearts of
everyone at this reunion.
A banquet is planned and prepared. Jesus and
Lazarus are the guests of honor. Martha leads a little band of women
in the preparation and before long the banquet is served.
Almost unnoticed, Mary disappears from the scene.
Martha looks around for her and not seeing her is tempted to believe
that Mary is lazy. Suddenly Mary walked through the door carrying a
beautiful alabaster box. She breaks the box which contains about a
pound of the most costly perfume and proceeds to anoint the head and
the feet of Jesus. Mary was immediately censured by Judas and
criticized by the disciples, but she pleased her Master, and as long
as He was pleased, she was happy.
In Mary’s defense Jesus said, Why do you
trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me…For in
pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My
burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in
the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a
memorial of her." Matthew 26:10,12, 13.
Jesus seemed to be
saying that the greatest memorials are those we erect by loving
sacrifice in honor of Him.
The perfume with which Mary anointed Jesus was
very costly. We are indebted to Judas Iscariot for figuring up the
value of the perfume. He reckoned it at being worth 300 pence or
denarii (Mark 14:5). From Matthew 20:1,2 we gather that a denarii
was a days wage for a common laborer. When we consider that for Jews
there are 52 Sabbaths in a year plus other holidays, this figures
out to worth what it would take a laborer to earn in a year…and Mary
poured it out on Jesus’ head and feet.
II. Mary’s Good Deed Became A Memorial of the Sacrificial Death of
Judas censured Mary because this valuable perfume
was not used for something practical –like feeding the poor. May I
say that from what I’ve learned about Mary and Judas from scripture,
I would hazard a guess that Mary was current in her gifts to the
poor and Judas was current in stealing from the funds that had been
designated for the poor.
Mary wanted to express her love and gratitude to
Jesus for Him being willing to pay the redemption price to save her
soul and only this costly perfume would do. Already, Mary had
experienced unspeakable blessings from Jesus. Her brother Lazarus
had been raised from the dead and while sitting at the feet of Jesus
she…and she alone…had learned that Jesus must die as a sacrificial
death for her sins and the sins of the world. (Luke 10:38-42; John
12:7) She grasped that the love Jesus had for her was beyond measure
and her heart responded that her love for Him must be the same (I
This truth is brought out clearly in John’s
account of this event. "Then said Jesus, ‘let her alone’ she
has kept this for the
day of my burying." John 12:7
We have the record of Mary sitting at the feet of
Jesus as He taught in Luke 10:38-42. Martha chided her for not
helping more with the dinner preparations but Jesus defended Mary by
saying that she had done "the one thing needful". I take this
statement to mean that she not only sat at His feet but she listened
to what he said closely enough that she understood what He was
saying. Others heard Him say the same things Mary heard but they did
not gain an understanding of what He said. This included Peter.
Peter had grasped an understanding that Jesus was the Christ the Son
of the Living God (Matthew 16:16) but when Jesus proceeded to teach
that, "…He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the
elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised on
the third day", Peter’s response was "God forbid it LORD! This
shall never happen to You." (Matthew 16:21,22) There is ample
evidence that neither Peter nor the other eleven got it until after
the resurrection. But Mary got it and from the time she got it she
began saving up the precious perfume to anoint Him for His burial.
III. Mary’s Good Deed A Memorial Of Her Death To The World.
It would be good to ask ourselves, "Have I got
it?" If we haven’t we need to realize that the issue of our eternal
destiny hangs on whether we get it and then whether we accept the
sacrificial death of Christ for our sins as our sole basis for
salvation. If we have got it and have received Jesus Christ as our
Savior we ought to ask ourselves whether our gratitude and love to
Christ measure up in light of Mary’s sacrificial gift. If not, we
need to be working on our love and gratitude to Christ.
The apostle John summed up what composes the
present world system. He wrote, "Do not love the world, or the
things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the
Father is not in him. For all that is in the world---the lust of the
flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life---is
not from the Father, but is of the world". 1st John 2:15, 16
Mary had an alabaster box of perfume worth a
working man’s wages for one year. What would she do with it? She
could have displayed it prominently in her living room for neighbors
and guests to admire…and envy. She could have splashed herself daily
with the most expensive perfume known and when others inquired let
them know the elite brand she wore. She could have impressed others
with the value of her perfume and pointed out that she had a great
deal of financial security in her wise investment. She could have
also taken a page from Judas and, with great fanfare, made her gift
available to meet the needs of the poor and then be known as
Israel’s most compassionate philanthropist.
But none of these things entered Mary’s heart for
one second. More important to her than anything else in the
world was the fact that God’s Son was willing to receive the
punishment for her sins and deliver her from the punishment for her
sins and deliver her from the condemnation of God’s law. The perfume
must be used to anoint Jesus for His burial. She poured it all out
on His head and His feet. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the
eyes and the pride of life have lost their allurement to her. What
did it matter if Judas censured her and the disciples criticized
her? Jesus was pleased and that was enough.
The apostle Paul relinquished the dignity of
being a rabbi and the reputation of being the most fervent Pharisee
of his generation, and yielded to Christ’s calling to be a
missionary to the gentiles (non Jews). In this calling he stated
that he was looked upon as "the offscouring (or scum)
of the world". 1st Corinthians. 4:13. Paul was never backward about stating this
was his personal choice and why he did it. Perhaps he said it best
in Galatians 6:14, "But God forbid that I should boast,
the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified
to me and I to the world".
There are still people whose good deeds are a
memorial of their death to the world. The following story appeared
in the May 25th devotional of ‘Our Daily Bread’. "The
letters stop me cold every time. Each month we receive another
poignant prayer letter from missionary friends who serve in an
African country where disease, especially AIDS, is killing people by
the thousands. When these friends tell us about the ongoing tragedy,
they are talking about people they know and love.
Our friends don’t complain about the danger they
are in or their struggle to raise a family amid hardship. Instead,
they remind us of the souls of these people, some of whom literally
die in their arms."
When our good deeds are a memorial of sacrificial
love; of the sacrificial death of Jesus and our death to the world
they are the greatest memorials of all, "…where ever this gospel
is preached in the whole world what this woman has done will also
be told as a memorial of her".
Copyright © 2002 Thomas E Berry
All Scriptures quoted from NKJV unless otherwise noted
Copyright © 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.