What is a memorial? The Hebrew word for memorial means “to remember”. Thus, a memorial is anything that helps us remember. The Memorial Day holiday began during the Civil War with the original title of Decoration Day. It was started when some concerned women decided to decorate the graves of those who bravely gave their lives in the Civil War with the purpose of honoring both the Union and Confederate dead. It was officially named Memorial Day in 1967 as a day to remember everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The intent is to help us recall with gratitude those who courageously gave of themselves, laying down their lives in the battle for freedom in our land.
The Bible is filled with the practice of remembrance. In the Old Testament, we find memorial feasts, monuments, and traditions which are rehearsed stories of God and His work. In the New Testament, Christians are commanded to participate in the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19) as a way of gratefully remembering what Jesus Christ did for us when He died on the cross in our place. Much like the soldiers who died in pursuit of earthly freedoms, He lay down His own life to purchase our freedom from sin, death, and eternal separation from our Creator God (John 3:16).
Biblical remembering is active, not passive. The Hebrew word remember is zakar, meaning to move toward a person because of a previous commitment; it is a bodily action and not just a cognitive activity. While forgetting requires no action (coming easily and naturally to us), remembering is an intentional and deliberate choice to pay attention. Moses tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:9-10a, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God…”
As we actively and intentionally focus on God, who He is, and what He has said and done, the natural outcome is thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.
Some of the things we, as Christians, can zakar – i.e., remember and recite to our children and grandchildren include:
- Being separated and apart from Christ before receiving Him as Savior and Lord (Ephesians 2:12)
- What Jesus has done for us on the cross (John 3:16)
- All the works of God which are described in the Bible as well as those in our personal lives (Psalm 111:2; 77:11-12; 105:5; 143:5)
Remembering the past gives encouragement and hope for the future. The God who did the seemingly impossible in the past is the same God who loves and lives within us today. If we forget or ignore the source of our blessings and our spiritual heritage or fail to pass on these remembrances, the results will include pride, ingratitude, and a growing dependence on self rather than on God.
When we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ, sharing biblical remembrances as well as our own personal stories of God’s presence, there is a long-lasting impact on those we love even after we have died. “The memory of the righteous is a blessing but the name of the wicked will rot,” (Proverbs 10:7). Don’t forget to remember/zakar if you want your life to be remembered as a blessing to others.