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Reflections on Sacrifice for Memorial Day

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As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, those who have served or had family members who served in any branch of the military in an active, National Guard, or reserve status understand that this weekend is not just about backyard barbecues. To be clear, we are not honoring all veterans, but only those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice by freely giving their last full measure of devotion in defense of this great nation and for the cause of freedom around the world. 

As a follower of Jesus who served twenty years on active duty in the army, I want to offer a biblical perspective and a fresh word of encouragement to add a deeper meaning to this annual holiday. Let us take a look at the nature of sacrifice, how it exemplifies God’s love, and acknowledge the value of the sacrifices made by family and friends who are left to carry on and keep our heroes’ memories alive.

(Note: I invite you to read an article I wrote for Memorial Day two years ago entitled, Their Sacrifice Was Not in Vain.)

What is Sacrifice?

I looked up the word on In its verb form, as in “sacrificed” or “sacrificing,” it is defined as “to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” Further on, we read: “Sometimes, the word is used in situations involving surrendering something to prevent something bad from happening, as in ‘She sacrificed herself to save us.’”

Military personnel and their families make a lot of sacrifices. As the definition above describes, they willingly give up a lot of things for the sake of something greater than themselves. They surrender their own freedom, time, devotion, and in many cases, their own lives so that others might live free.

How Sacrifice Models God’s Love

The Apostle John seems to have captured some of Jesus’s words about how sacrificing oneself exemplifies God’s love in his Gospel. John also adds his own assessment in his first epistle to the early church.

In John 3:16, we read these well-known words from Jesus himself, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love for human beings was demonstrated by sending his Son to die for our sins. This selfless, unconditional, and supernatural love surpasses all other kinds of love that you could think of.

Later, in Jesus’s last series of sermons before he was betrayed and crucified, he stated, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). Not only did the Father sacrifice his Son due to his great love for us, but Jesus himself willingly laid down his own life for us. He paid the penalty for our sins out of his love for those who would believe and follow him.

Lastly, in 1 John 3:16, we read, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” The Apostle John has described the defining characteristic of those who follow Jesus: a tangible love that freely sacrifices self for the sake of others. God demonstrated it, Jesus also did, and John exhorts the church to do the same.

Looking at how these verses tie together with the sacrifices our fallen service members have made in our nation’s wars over the past two hundred and fifty-plus years, the common denominator appears to be a deep love from the heart of those who freely gave their lives for the ultimate benefit of others. God gave up his Son because he loved. Jesus died on the cross for us because of his great love. In the same spirit of selfless and godly devotion, brave men and women, when presented with a choice to save their own life or offer it up so that others might live, chose to willingly let go of their most precious gift.

The Sacrifices of Those Who Remain Behind

Lastly, I want to address the sacrifices made by family and friends of those whom we have lost. 

My wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Replica last weekend as it stopped in Waynesville, Missouri, just outside of Fort Leonard Wood where I work. Most of the names etched on this wall were men drafted right out of high school. They came from all walks of life and ethnicities. They did what their country asked of them. Those who served with them and survived still struggle to find comfort decades after the war ended. In addition to grieving the loss of their comrades, they feel guilty because they were able to come home alive.

As we viewed the names of the 58,281 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam, we kept seeing the first names of our sons, fathers, and brothers, which made it all the more real. Wives lost their husbands, and children lost their daddies. These Gold Star families deserve our continued support. 

As my wife reflected on this moving experience on social media that evening, she wrote:

Shortly before we left, the sun was shining on the wall behind us, and our shadows were reflected on the wall. It was a surreal moment, and the names behind our shadows felt more real than we did. So, I took a picture to remember the sacrifice. We are alive. We and our nation live on in freedom thanks to every living, breathing soldier who gave their all and is no longer in the land of the living. But they do live on, through all of us. May we never forget.

Closing Thoughts

And so, on this Memorial Day, we honor these brave men and women who willingly served and sacrificed their lives because they loved their country, their fellow man, and freedom. Because of the price they paid, we owe them honor. We need to remember them. We need to love like them. We need to love like Jesus did, setting aside our own needs for our neighbors, whatever it costs.

May those combat veterans who need healing find true comfort in the God who has the power to heal body, mind, and soul. To paraphrase what King David wrote in Psalm 23:4, “Even though you walked through the darkest valley, you have nothing to fear, for God is with you; His presence will comfort you.”

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