For many, Memorial Day weekend signifies the start of summer. But the holiday’s true meaning often gets lost in the three-day weekend of backyard barbecues, beach parties and sales.

Memorial Day is a day set aside each year to remember and honor those who have served in the U.S. armed forces and who have died. It shouldn’t be confused with Veterans Day (Nov. 11), which honors those who have served and are still living, or Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May), a day to thank those who are currently serving.

Over the years, I’ve heard “Taps” played on Memorial Day, on Veterans Day and at cemeteries giving military honors to the deceased. Each time I hear it, I remember those who have fought for our country. A few years ago, I visited Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, as I live close by. I was up on the hill walking around Arlington House, where Union soldiers from the American Civil War are buried, when the clock struck noon. As if the horn player were right next to me, I heard “Taps” echoing throughout the cemetery. In that moment, hearing it among the dead of the armed forces affected me more than it had in years past.

The approximately 400,000 graves in Arlington represent all faith traditions and nonbelievers, and I believe the grounds can be a place of solace for all people—those mourning their family, friends, comrades or visitors showing their respect to our nation’s fallen.

Death is always difficult to handle, but there is joy in resurrection.

Death is always difficult to handle, but there is joy in resurrection. When visiting Arlington on Memorial Day, I see joy in Section 60, the final resting place for soldiers and airmen who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Families—often widowed parents of small children—gather at their loved ones’ graves and hang out for the day. They bring blankets, picnics and lawn chairs to celebrate the life of their hero killed in action.

With any death, I think of the resurrection. As Christians, we are resurrection people—we live because Christ died, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. At the moment of Jesus’ death, our sins were fully answered for: there is nothing left for us to attain in regard to our forgiveness and our belief in God. Our salvation from sin is in Jesus and it is perfect. As Christians, we serve a crucified Lord and a risen Lord. Because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, we, too, shall have victory over sin and death.

Walking the hallowed grounds of Arlington reminds me that life is fragile and can be taken from us at any time, but that if we live in Christ, we will be united with Christ in our death.

Michael Sonnenberg
Michael Sonnenberg is a candidate for ordination as a deacon in the ELCA and serves as administrative assistant for ELCA Federal Chaplaincy Ministries. He lives in Arlington, Va., with his husband, Will, and their Black Lab, Liam.

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