Memorial Day began when General Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed May 30, 1868 to be a day of Memorial for soldiers who had fallen in the Civil War. Through the years, in addition to a special day, we have added numerous monuments, walls, and other types of Memorials that have been erected in Washington D.C. and throughout the country in memory of those who have fallen in a terrible conflict. These memorials serve to remind us of a great price paid for our freedom.
However, when it comes to the origin of memorials, I think I am right in saying that the very first visible and continuing memorial ever given was given by God Himself when he said to Noah in Genesis 9:12-15:
This is the sign of the covenant which I make between you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth … and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
For Noah the rainbow was a memorial sign. In a sense it spoke to him with a twofold message. It was both a reminder of something terrible that had happened – the flood and its total devastation – and it was a promise to Noah and all flesh that life would continue in the future. It was a symbol of hope. It inaugurated a covenant that promised life.
Like the rainbow, this table and these elements also present a twofold message. They are a memorial, a reminder, of the terrible price that was paid by Jesus on the cross. In a sense, we and potentially, the whole world died with him in the flood that engulfed him because he became sin on our behalf and died on our behalf. This simple service keeps that reality alive.
But it is also a promise, a message of hope – the promise of forgiveness, of new life, and of salvation and the beginning of a new and lasting covenant.
As a rainbow in the sky speaks of both the terrible price paid for sin and at the same time promises life, so our communion tells us of what Jesus did for us and at the same time promises abundant life both here and hereafter.
Jesus summarized it succinctly when he took the bread and said, “this is my body given for you,” and then the cup, saying, “this is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”