Memorial Day began in this country after the Civil War as an effort toward reconciliation between the families of veterans in the North and the South. After the war, there was already a tradition in the North of decorating soldiers' graves, called "Decoration Day." But in 1868 an organization of Northern war veterans decreed it ought to be a national holiday. May 30 was carefully chosen as the date because it was not the anniversary of a specific battle, and therefore would be a neutral date for both sides.
But human beings hold on to their wounds, and reconciliation takes time, grace and mercy. So initially, as the holiday spread, it was an occasion for both sides to give angry speeches about the wartime atrocities inflicted by the other side, and the righteousness of their own.
However, as time went on, Memorial Day really did become a time to remember all veterans, a time to visit the graves of family and friends, and to remember their lives.
In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill moved three holidays off of their specific dates and onto Mondays, in order to create three-day weekends. Memorial Day came to be associated with the beginning of summer, as well as the Indianapolis 500, and sales at the malls.
Today, let us remember the spirit in which the day was conceived, as a way to bring together those who had once been bitter enemies. After the fighting is over, the loss and heartbreak are shared throughout the human family. God's mercy pours out over all God's children, with no respect for the borders of nation states.
Here in my city of Chicago, as NATO gathers amid displays of military force as well as protests, I pray for comfort for all those who have lost a loved one to the ravages of war. I pray that the peace of Christ, which passes all human understanding, will knit together this weary and war-torn world.
From the perspective of history, our national boundaries seem so fluid, changing throughout the years. From the perspective of eternity, those same national boundaries seem meaningless, since one day we will be reunited in the memory of the one who created us all.
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