Remembering Through Memorials

Today is Memorial Day, though it was originally called Decoration Day, with its original, national observance on May 30, 1868. Opinions vary regarding who first observed the day, but what is not disputed is that John Logan, Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed the holiday as a means of honoring Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, in what President Abraham Lincoln called, “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Over time, the holiday observance has evolved. Updates to the holiday include moving it from May 30 to whatever date falls on the last Monday in May, and using the day to observe all fallen soldiers in the United States military. Still further, the day of observance has morphed into a day for decorating the graves of all loved ones, military and non-military alike. For still others, the day has become little more than a day off for grilling steaks and hot dogs, or getting great a great Memorial Day Sale deal on tires or a microwave oven.

I was faced with the question this week of whether Christ-follower should participate in Memorial Day observance and activities. My immediate response was, “Of course! Absolutely!” Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, and the people of God are a people of remembrance. And what we are remembering is the supreme sacrifice of those who have gone before us so that we can have the freedom to live God-honoring lives.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
– John 15:13, ESV

Throughout history, God has surrounded his people with memorials that serve to aid us in remembering. If we were to take an exhaustive look at those, this blog post would be a TLDR (Too long, didn’t read). Let’s look at some of the more well-known memorials God instituted with his people.


When God was leading the Israelites out of captivity the last plague to hit the Egyptian captors was the death of the firstborn. But the Israelites had covered their doorposts and lintel with the blood of a spotless, male lamb, one year old, so that when God passed through Egypt, unleashing the plague, and saw the blood, he would “pass over” that home.

The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
– Exodus 12:13-14, ESV


Having escaped their captivity in Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the desert as they made their way to the promised land. They began to grumble for lack of food. In response, God rained manna (literally “What is it?” because they didn’t know what it was) from heaven every day but the Sabbath. This was their wilderness food.

Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”
– Exodus 16:31-32, ESV

Ephod Stones

Aaron, the brother of Moses, and Aaron’s sons were set aside by God to serve as priests on behalf of the people of Israel. God commanded that “holy garments” be made for them. Amid God’s instructions, we find this.

As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance.
– Exodus 28:11-12, ESV

Garment Fringe

It was not just the priests that had garments of remembrance. God commanded that the people themselves should put specific tassels on their garments as tassels of remembrance. God gave these instructions to Moses.

Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
– Numbers 15:38-40, ESV


In Numbers 16, we read of a man named Korah who rebelled against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of self-aggrandizement, and claiming the he could also be a great leader of the people of Israel. In a moment of confrontation, God opened the earth and swallowed up Korah and his family and all they possessed, and fire from God consumed the 250 other rebels who were offering incense in their rebellion.

God ordered that the censers used in the rebellion be pounded into a memorial to prevent any future rebellion.

Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered, and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar, to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he become like Korah and his company—as the LORD said to him through Moses.
– Numbers 16:39-40, ESV

Twelve Stones

When Joshua led the people across the Jordan river, into the promised land, God had the people set up a memorial. Twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel, was to collect a stone from the middle of the river where the people passed through. They were to lay the stones down in the place where they lodged that night.

When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.
– Joshua 4:6b-7, ESV

Joshua’s Memorial Stone

In Joshua 24, the people are brought to a point of decision, serve Yahweh, or serve your idols. The people cried out, “No, we will serve Yahweh!” And in response, Joshua set up a stone as a memorial and a witness to the vow the people took that day.

And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.”
– Joshua 24:26b-27, ESV

The Lord’s Supper

Moving to the new covenant age, as Christ-followers we have an ongoing remembrance of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
– Luke 22:19, ESV

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
– 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, ESV

Back to Memorial Day

Desiring God staff writer, Jon Bloom said, “Christians, of all people, understand the crucial importance of remembering. Christians are ‘memorial people’ because the whole of our faith depends upon remembering.”

We remember both pleasant and unpleasant, and it is our charge to learn from all of it, to remember, to be profoundly grateful, and to act accordingly. And while some may object, I’ll borrow a haunting line from the movie, Excalibur:

“It is the doom of men that they forget.”

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon
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  1. Julie Habiger on May 27, 2024 at 9:10 AM

    Beautiful reflection. I love the way you drew forth all of the memorials in scripture. I attended Mass this morning which was the Mass for the Dead, not just those who served our country and died, but to pray too for all the faithful Christ-followers of all denominations who have served our Lord and King and passed away. Because of the women and men who served, sometimes to their death, we have our freedom. Because of the men and women who followed Christ, sometimes to their death, we have freedom in Christ. Eternal rest grant unto these, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. ✝️

  2. Damon J. Gray on May 27, 2024 at 12:33 PM

    Hello Julie, and thank you for the kind comment. I’ll tell you I almost didn’t post this one. When I was done writing, I stepped back to look at it and seriously thought, “I wonder if this is cheesy.” I appreciate your perspective better than mine. 😉

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