The Ultimate Sacrifice
May 30, 1868, served as the first official “National Decorations Day.” Former Union General James A. Garfield stood on the grounds of Arlington Cemetery and profoundly stated,
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death and thus resolved the doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Memorial Day, formerly known as National Decorations Day, took place three years prior on May 1, 1865. On that day, freed slaves in Charleston, SC organized Memorial Day to honor the 257 Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a confederate prison camp. Those freed slaves knew firsthand that freedom was not free and that it came with a hefty price. I can only imagine that at some point in their lives they heard of these words written in John 15:13,
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s live for his friends.”
I can only imagine that this verse from John 15:13 served as motivation for them to dig up the bodies of those Soldiers who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for their freedom. Led by hearts of gratitude, they worked diligently, to remove those Soldiers from a place known as the enemy’s camp to a place suitable for them to have their own individual burial sites. To show honor and respect, the freed slaves built a wall around their newly constructed memorial site and erected an archway over the entrance with the words “Martyrs of the Race Course.” After their mission was complete, approximately 3,000 Charleston residents paraded around singing songs of praise and carrying roses to honor those who had sacrificed it all for their freedom. This event galvanized the efforts to honor and remember all fallen Warriors in the United States.
In early Christian communities, roses stood as a symbol to recognize God’s hand at work in the lives of those who believe, in whatever form the evidence appeared. Not only were the freed slaves recognizing their fallen Soldiers, but they were also recognizing the power of God at work in their lives. In addition, red roses also symbolize martyrdom. Generally, a wild red rose will have five petals. Those five petals represent the wounds Jesus sustained during His crucifixion (both hands, feet, and pierced side) and the blood He shed for humanity.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” John 15:13
Memorial Day serves as a reminder that our freedom is not free. It is also a day to reflect upon our supreme Martyr, Jesus Christ. Some died for our freedom, but only One died for our soul. As you go throughout your day, take a moment to reflect upon how Jesus battled with satan and gained the victory! Jesus voluntarily laid down His life to pay the wages for our sin, so we could have eternal life. Our fallen brothers and sisters may have laid down their lives for our freedom, but Jesus rose from His grave, demonstrating His power over sin and death to provide us with the ultimate level of eternal freedom. He now sits on the right hand of our Heavenly Father, making intercession for us today! Jesus is calling us by name to carry on the prestigious fight as Soldiers of the cross. Will you answer His call?
Greater is the Spirit of God within us than the evil one who is in this world. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in those who trust in Him, seal, comfort, and guide believers to live for Him. One thing that we know for certain is the promises God made, the oath that He gave, and the words that He spoke. For He summed it up perfectly by this one supreme act,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” - John 3:16
As a U.S. Army Veteran, I will never forget the Warriors who have paved the way for me, and who have sacrificed it all for my freedom. I will never forget those who I’ve had the privilege to serve with and who epitomized the following,
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” John 15:13
As we honor this day of rest, think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who become Martyrs of the Course, and ask yourself the following questions:
- How can my actions truly honor our Fallen Warriors by carrying on the fight to ensure justice and safety for all?
- How can my life truly bring honor and glory unto Jesus?
On the next page, take a moment to read a prayer spoken by Rev. Byron Sunderland at Arlington Cemetary on May 30, 1868.
Prayer by Rev. Byron Sunderland, May 30, 1868, Arlington Cemetary, Arlington, VA
Almighty and Everlasting God – the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – the God of our fathers and our God – who hast the care of all the ends of the earth. Oh, thou Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor of the World, whose providence is over every living thing, and who dost cause the seasons to keep their annual rounds, and from the death and drowsiness of winter dost evoke the life and beauty of the spring, how great and manifold are the tokens of Thy presence, and of Thy resurrection power, as all nature wakes again glorious in the garniture of flowers, and filled with melodies of the time when the singing of birds has come.
We pray thee, oh Lord, mercifully to remember us for good, as we have come forth this day, among Thy people, to acknowledge Thee; and, as Thy servants of old-time did for themselves and for Thy chosen nation, to call upon Thy name and to spread out our supplications before Thee. For we come this day to the cities of the dead – we are come to the sepulchers of our heroes, slain and fallen in battle with all the host of them that counted not their lives dear unto them for the sacred cause of God, and of country, and of humanity, and by which price they have made of this land one greater than Thermopylae, and have filled it in all its borders with freedom’s shrines. Because we have come to mourn this day for those who sleep and to pay to their memory the utmost tenderness of our regards. Because we have come to weep with those who survive, that the mission of our country could be accomplished only at so great a sacrifice. Because we have come, Oh Lord, likewise to mingle with our tears and sorrows a grateful sense of our deliverance and our triumph over appalling dangers, while we cover with garlands and fresh flowers the graves of our noble sons. Because we have come to take from the lap of the earth these new children that have sprung in such abundance of loveliness and in such fragrance of incense and cast them back upon the mother that brought them forth, in testimony that there is nothing too delicate, nothing too beautiful to be lavished upon the remembrance of those who have sealed with blood their devotion to the holy work of God and man.
Yet, oh Lord, we well do know that these blooms of the earth will fade; these blossoms will wither and perish where they fall. Well do we know that they will return to mingle with the sacred mold of those who once stood up as a living rampart against the violence of treason – against the fury of rebellion; still, do we pray that other hands, year after year, may strew them afresh, as we do this day. We pray that every spring-time may rise with its prophet voice to tell us that there is glory and immortality in the truth. That however assailed, however, borne down for a time, the eternal years of God are her’s. And we pray, too, that her’s may be the hearts of men that never quail, though in the midst of living perfidies that make the soul turn sick. We pray, too, that her’s too may be the hands of men that have borne the fire of every martyr for the priceless cause of liberty and justice. We pray, too, that her’s may be the vows of men who, though betrayed and outraged in the house of their own friends, will not yet forget their duty – will not yet forsake the charge that has been imposed upon them – whether through the sophistries of a perverted judgment, or through the temptations of a corrupt ambition, or through the baser briberies of mammon, which, while they deceive, both defile and degrade our manhood to the lowest depths of infamy.
And now, oh Lord our God, we appeal to Thee by the united voice of our prayer for the integrity and rectitude of our nation in all coming time, and for the benefits and blessings of amity, equality, and fraternity, for us and for all men throughout the world, we cry to Thee from among the graves of those whom Thou didst choose to win the victory in the last great struggle for the welfare of mankind. And we pray, Thee, now especially, to look down upon us in Thy mercy, and bless us. Bless the general and officers, and soldiers and sailors of the Army and Navy of the United States – those that may be today assembled here or elsewhere, in all the land, for the same affecting purpose. Bless all the people of our country, and confirm to us the fruits of the late war in the emancipation of millions that had been growing in bondage, and in the exalted aims that have sustained this people in such great advancement. Give us a spiritual religion. May Christianity prevail among us in its original purity. May it not be to us an empty ritual, but a daily covenant between God and men, and between man and his fellowmen. And we pray that the machinations and efforts of demagogues – that the pestilence and poison of mere partisan politics – may be thoroughly purged from among us as the bane, forever, of all republics, and the certain precursors of their disaster and downfall.
And, oh Lord, so long as the sovereignty of this great people shall be committed to the work of constitutional freedom – to the work of liberty regulated by law – to the work of equality for all men without distinction – so long do we pray that Thou wilt uphold the honor of this Government, and give its name and its prowess respect among the peoples of the earth. For well we know that whensoever this nation shall depart from these great lights, and wander darkening in the gloom and sorcery of despotism and oppression, then wilt Thou make bare Thine arm and strike down the whole political fabric under which we live.
And now, oh Lord, we implore these blessings upon us – we deprecate these judgments from us – not in our own name, nor our own merits, but alone in the name and upon the merits of Him whose name is above every name, and will endure forever. And unto the father, Son, and Holy Ghost, will we ascribe unceasing and undivided praises. Amen.