January 20, 2021

A Memorial Day Meditation: Pentecost and Memorial Day

It is an odd conjunction of special days: Pentecost Sunday and Memorial Day (U.S.A.).

Memorial Day looks back and commemorates the sacrifices of the past. Pentecost, an event which grew out of the greatest sacrifice and triumph, looks forward to a new day.

The one recalls war. The other anticipates peace.

One emphasizes what people have done to secure a nation’s freedom. The other stresses what God must do if people would be truly free within.

One emphasizes our battles against flesh and blood. The other reminds us our greatest conflicts are not with human enemies, but with spiritual forces of darkness.

Memorial Day is solemn. Pentecost is exuberant.

The one is a day for silent reflection. The other a day for speaking the good news with tongues on fire.

The sign of Memorial Day is a national flag, billowing in the breeze. On Pentecost, the wind of God blows from heaven, and God’s people are marked with cross and crown.

On Memorial Day, communities have parades to honor our country. At Pentecost, the people of God are sent marching into all nations of the world to share the good news.

Our leaders make speeches on Memorial Day, urging us to remember those who gave their lives to protect America. On Pentecost, great is the company of preachers who point us to him who died and rose again to make the whole world new.

Families decorate graves with flags and flowers on Memorial Day. On Pentecost, we receive gifts from him who broke the power of the grave and will one day raise the dead to life again.

One day is an occasion for family picnics. On the other, God’s family gathers at the Table.

Memorial Day was designed to bring our nation together. Pentecost makes people from every tongue, tribe and nation one in Christ.

On Memorial Day, our leaders remind us that we too may be called to take up arms in defense of our freedom. On Pentecost, we lay down our arms and our reliance upon them, confessing the ultimate power of love and service.

Memorial Day commemorates the sacrifices of a few in uniform who died for the many, that all might live in peace. Pentecost calls every man, woman, and child to lay down their lives for others that all might live forever.

On Memorial Day, our leaders tell us that our future peace and prosperity depends upon maintaining our military might. At Pentecost God reminds us, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.”

Memorial Day celebrates the common grace of living in a free and prosperous nation. Pentecost marks the extraordinary grace of God who has come to live within us and make us his own temple.

One focuses on America. The other focuses on Christ.

Each, in different ways, is of value and importance.

But only one day has ultimate significance.

Give honor to whom honor is due. 

But remember, there is a new day coming. At Pentecost, we begin to taste it.


  1. Thank you, CP for this meditation. The confluence of these two events is unfortunate, as each merits its own day and its own celebration.

    And, unfortunately, BOTH events have fallen into misunderstanding and misuse, if not disregard. It is left up to those of us who still care to keep the two separate and holy, in their own ways.

  2. Christiane says

    “One emphasizes our battles against flesh and blood.
    The other reminds us our greatest conflicts are not with human enemies, but with spiritual forces of darkness.”
    Thank you, CHAPLAIN MIKE, your meditation has some meaning for me at this time in my life.

    “O Morning Star,
    splendour of light eternal
    and sun of righteousness:
    and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
    and the shadow of death.”
    (O Oriens, from the ‘O’ Antiphons)

    “And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
    (1 Cor 15:26)

    ‘. . . every trace of Light begins a grace in me, a beckoning.
    The smallest gleam is somehow a beginning and a calling;
    “Sleeper awake,
    the darkness was a dream.”

    (Malcolm Guite)

  3. Memorial Day brings up in me the thought of praying backwards. If we are “seated with Christ in heavenly places” and not really locked into the space time continuum, we can pray for those who lived and died “before” us because everything is now. Before and after are without meaning. I can pray for the wounded, terror stricken 22 year old laying in a field on Iwo Jima. I can legitimately pray for his comfort and that prayer has meaning. If I’m wrong about that I can only be accused of a victimless crime – bad praying and wasting time. Anyway, I do pray for those who have gone before and those who are going ahead. As much as I hate the ugliness of war, anyone who is locked in the grotesque nature of combat so that I can sit in my kitchen drinking a cup of tea is deserving of my prayer and sincerest thanks. I pray for that young man, bleeding, crying, in some cases reduced to a child and calling out for his mom, that the peace of Christ would hold and surround him. War is hell. There really are just no words.

  4. Rick Ro. says

    Really nice contrast between Memorial Day and Pentecost. Beautiful meditation, CM.

  5. Are we allowed to question whether these deaths–these wars–really are ‘protecting’ ‘our’ ‘freedom’? Or is that simply an unacceptable line of inquiry?

    And your response is that I am somehow diminishing someone’s ‘sacrifice’ then all I can say is that people die purposeless deaths all the time. The fact that someone is a soldier–even, holiest of holies, an American soldier–doesn’t actually mean the circumstances of their death are rendered sacred. I happen to have some military experience, thanks. And I can tell you that if the dead could return, their number one wish would be not, “Finish the job” but rather “Make sure this doesn’t happen to any of my buddies.”

    • I have no problem with what you’re saying here. I know a soldier who went into the army as a lost soul. A loser with no other avenues in life. It’s not that he wasn’t afforded opportunities. He was just a weasel who had lost all his holes. No holy of holies. But ya know what? I prayed for that weasel while he was in Afghanistan and I prayed for his parents. If he was wounded in battle and dying in some remote outpost he would have been just as scared and alone as any kind and patriotic son. And so would you have with what cynicism and haughty intellectualism has found its way into your pens. That moment is bigger than our gifts or our sins. Death is the great eaqulizer. No smart people die. No good or bad people die. No poor people die and no rich people die. That’s what we remember today. The line of inquiry is your brothers in arms who have have been cut down, not the justification for some war or another. It’s to remember the sorry state of affairs that the human condition has brought us to that leaves our individual friends, not our governments, our individual brothers alone in the mud. Maybe Charles Manson deserves that. Maybe Hitler. The list can’t be as long as the tens and hundreds of millions who have faced it so lighten up J and let today be a moment of tenderness in your heart for those people.Bot everything is an intellectual competition. Some days are not made for making points. Some days are just made to remember. Today is just one of those days.

      • Good words, Chris, both here and in your comment above. We live in a broken world in which war–and death–is a reality. We mourn the state of the world as we mourn those who have given the “last full measure of devotion” and pray “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

    • Christiane says

      ” . . . I can tell you that if the dead could return, their number one wish would be not, “Finish the job” but rather “Make sure this doesn’t happen to any of my buddies.” ”

      Is that so different a goal? . . . . ‘if the dead could return’ would they not want for every moment to be spent trying to save their beloved friends from death if they could? I’m told that the hearts of our soldiers are focused on protecting one another from harm, and it is often with that in mind, that a soldier may risk himself to save his brothers, and may himself perish for love of his brothers. ‘The mission’ ? In our country, brothers defending brothers in the pursuit of a military mission seems to be a ‘given’ . . . such is the bravery of our soldiers in the field.
      And yes, there ARE no words for what they go through. But let’s recognize that at the moment of their deaths, many of them gave their all to save others.
      We who live can honor our dead heroes in the manner of our own living. We can honor their gift in the course of our own lives, when in this country, in whatever moment we are living and in whatever we are doing, we respond to this question ‘what is the demand of Love in this moment?’
      It sounds easy. But it wasn’t for our fallen soldiers. They have passed the baton to the living, and it is in the realm of the living that their example of honorable sacrifice can be upheld and continued. Some in our country will take from this remembrance day a renewed sense of purpose. And because they do, the deaths of our soldiers were profoundly not in vain.

    • Rick Ro. says

      ” Are we allowed to question whether these deaths–these wars–really are ‘protecting’ ‘our’ ‘freedom’? Or is that simply an unacceptable line of inquiry? ”

      If you’ve ever read ANY comment here at iMonk with an open mind and an ear to hear, you’d know that such a question is allowed, and such an inquiry is acceptable.

      ” And your response is that I am somehow diminishing someone’s ‘sacrifice’ then all I can say is that people die purposeless deaths all the time. ”

      I assume you’re missing an “if” in your first clause. And I don’t think that diminished anyone’s sacrifice. I’d say most of the deaths in Vietnam could be viewed as sacrifices for horrible reasons (my opinion).

      ” And I can tell you that if the dead could return, their number one wish would be not, ‘Finish the job’ but rather ‘Make sure this doesn’t happen to any of my buddies.’ ”

      Talk to the dead a lot, do you?

      J, you seriously need Jesus in your life. I hope He continues to chase after you so you’ll eventually experience what freedom feels like, so you can be free of the compulsion you have to come here and lob grenades ad nauseam.

      • OldProphet says

        The dead are dead. You can’t talk to them. You can’t pray for them. Their eternal destiny is determined already by God. The dead are dead.

  6. Mike, beautiful and thoughtful mediation. Thank you for this.

  7. Charity Dell says

    I enjoyed this meditation by Chaplain Mike. I was raised in the Black Pentecostal church, and began celebrating
    Pentecost as a “feast day” in 1984, introducing it to the 3rd-6th grade choristers I directed in the “Angelic Choir”
    of an Assembly of God church in Xenia, Ohio. I cannot believe that I have been doing this now for thirty-one years, gradually expanding the pageantry for celebration to encompass the Festival of Firstfruits and the Pentecost traditions of other cultures. This year, I reflected on the fact that my dear Mom went home to Jesus four days after Pentecost in 2014 (Pentecost was June 8) at the age of eighty-four–this year was my first Pentecost celebration without Mom. Still, I thank God for the wonderful heritage of faith I experienced as a child and as an adolescent, being raised with two godly parents who exuberantly praised God all their lives and created a warm, welcoming home–not only for my three brothers and me, but also for anyone in need of Christian hospitality. Pentecost this year was a little more joyful for me; knowing my mother is safely and happily enjoying all the beauties of our celestial home made me reflect upon the fact that all the rituals I had
    been able to craft over the years for congregational celebration were and are but little symbols of the full biblical pageant of our salvation–the salvation my parents continue to enjoy in the “Jerusalem above”, our “true mother.”
    This year, I had more fun shopping for the firstfruits and cheeses; I relished the time I had to pour over catalogues, choosing Pentecost bulletin covers and lapel pins; and I happily stuffed the red-and-white balloon
    bouquets into the car before dashing off for the morning service. I praised God for all the memories I had of
    joyful Pentecost worship services I had enjoyed both here and abroad–and I thanked Him for the gift of the
    unusual picture-perfect weather we experienced here in southeastern Connecticut! Memorial Day was just a
    little sweeter and a little more blessed for me this year, and I remembered all those saints I knew from churches near and far that now experience “sweet is the calm of Paradise the Blest”–as the hymn* reminds us.
    We are truly privileged to know the True and Living God and “Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent”–and in the midst of the sorrow that intersects our lives, we can STILL shout and dance in the HOLY GHOST, the “Lord and
    Giver of Life!” *For All The Saints

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