Memorial Day has lost meaning

Published 9:58 am Friday, May 27, 2016

Are there things which others consider insignificant but you don’t?

It bugs me that Memorial Day is no longer May 30. It all changed 35 years ago, when Congress put into effect that the last Monday in May would be the official Memorial Day. Why? So that federal employees could enjoy a three-day weekend.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It began in the South as a day to honor the Civil War dead by placing flowers on the graves of soldiers who had given their lives for the cause.

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Most notable was what took place in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1866. A group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate dead who had fallen in the battle at Shiloh.

Kenneth Jensen

Kenneth Jensen

Nearby were graves of the Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed by the sight of bare graves, and out of compassion for the mothers who has lost their sons, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well. What a beautiful gesture in a time when the wounds of defeat remained extremely painful in the South.

We glibly express gratitude to our military personnel saying, “Thank you for your service” while sending the sons and daughters of other mothers to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, when Memorial Day weekend arrives, it is all about the beginning of summer, a backyard barbecue, opening one’s cabin on the lake and Memorial Day sales at the mall.

It bugs me, because Memorial Day ought to interrupt our week, causing us to remember the sacrifices made by others for our benefit. Instead, it provides us with a mini-vacation and time to forget.

It bugs me because it is one more symptom of a society becoming more and more self-absorbed, concerned only about “me.” It affects our expectations from government — or lack thereof — our involvement in community organizations such as Kiwanis and Rotary, as well as our participation in the worship life of the church and its mission to serve others.

It is in remembering where patriotism and the worship life of the church interface. As it is written:

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.” — Psalm 22:27-28


The Rev. Kenneth A Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.