One of the delights of traveling is forgetting the days. Is it Saturday? Or Thursday? Are we in June yet? When did we leave? Wait, perhaps it’s Monday? Today is Monday, and Memorial Day. In Scotland, today is a bank holiday and this was our clue that it was Memorial Day back home. We remembered the day for remembrance while we mailed postcards from a local post office in Jedburgh.
The majority of the memorial days in my life have been spent at “Grace.” I suppose some might call it a family reunion, but to me and most of the family, it has always been Grace. My mom’s extended family and friends gather at a small church in Virginia every Memorial Day weekend. Though I don’t know how they are related to me, sweet ladies remark on the growth of my sisters and me. Children, cousins second and third, run around the freshly mowed field of the church that is opened only once a year. My great-grandmother, we all call her Macaw, has in recent years been tenderly wheeled out for Grace. She sits in a wheel chair, her advanced Alzheimer’s causing her to repeat the same questions over and over again. Yet she sings along to “How Great Thou Art” as if her memory is perfect. The food is labored over and then left out in the hot Virginia sun until it is time for the late lunch. Then, tables older than most of us are assembled, and we eat beside the cemetery. Grace and Memorial Day are synonymous for me. I remember all that has been done for my country, all the soldiers who continue to fight for freedom, as I enjoy the fruits of their labor—worship with my family in a church that’s stood for centuries.
While my family was at Grace this year, I toured Holyrood. I realized the little church in Virginia is not actually that old, compared to the churches and chapels here that date back to 1100. Fighting is not new either. There is much to be remembered. Since Eve and Adam chose to partake of the knowledge of good and evil, chose to sin, blood has been shed. People have fought for the rights and privileges that their hearts cling to. Lives have been lost. In Edinburgh castle, one of the most splendid buildings is the Scottish National War Memorial, listing the dead of the world wars and of all military campaigns since 1945. The old barracks transformed into this remarkable testimony. The lists of names and the architecture and flowers were impressive, but I was most moved by the quotes engraved on the walls. They struck the very heart of the sacrifice. The dates beside the names told of lives severed young, tragically, and unfairly.
But this, I was used to. And though powerful, it was not unlike some of the great tributes I have seen back home. It was the same war, after all. But in a corner right before we left, a different binder caught my attention. It listed the names of civilians who died during the wars. The World Wars were felt very strongly here. I saw it in the monument we stumbled upon in our walk towards Buckingham Palace and I saw it today. Children died here. And it was not that long ago, especially in light of the ancient history of this land. What would my family reunion, Grace, look like if the World Wars had touched America like it touched Europe?
As an American girl, I am particularly grateful for and thankful to the men and woman who have served in the United States Armed Forces. I am privileged to know many very personally. And if I do not know them, then I know their families. I have seen how serving shapes stories. I have stood on the street, waved a flag, and cheered as the van pulled up bringing the soldier home. He stood speechless as his baby girl held him tight. And I have lined the street, waved a flag, and barely held back a tear as a hearse carried a soldier by the high school he had graduated from only two years earlier. A hand, presumably his mother’s, pressed against the window of the black car. The American service and sacrifice is not something I take lightly.
But this trip has broadened my horizons. This Memorial Day, I pause to not only remember the American warriors who have sacrificed so much, but also the blood shed for freedom over the last few millennia. There is much that plays into my story. But of all the blood that decorates history’s pages, I remember most vividly the blood that was shed especially to save my very own life. We call it grace.
God created a perfect world, but as just mentioned, sin seemed to take it back. Fights ensued, and the payment for sin was the blood of an innocent lamb. The just God could not allow His children to live lives in sin. But mess up they did. So sacrifice was the only way the people of God might again be with Him. And for centuries, sacrifice and sin battled. But grace stepped in. Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, lived a perfect life so that the people of God might find their way back to freedom. The people crucified Him. He, the innocent lamb and powerful lion, was slain. Love, not nails, held Him to the cross. So that I might be saved. He did not stay dead. Love conquered the tomb. Jesus rose again.
And now, two millennium later, I believe. And I can follow Him, trust Him, and my find my ultimate freedom secured in Him. This is the freedom to forever worship my King. This freedom is not for me alone. It is for anyone, no matter how perfect they think they are or how horrid their list of iniquity. Romans 10:9 promises, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is called grace.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
Romans 5: 1-11