During the second and third centuries A.D., the church would meet in the catacombs and bury the dead in a ritual of remembrance. The term to describe these ancient resting places is coemeterium, from the Greek which translates to “dormitory.” This designation stresses the fact that the graves were merely a temporary holding place until Christ’s return and the final resurrection. In the Gospel of John Jesus says the following words:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40, ESV)
Here in the United States, we take a day to remember our country’s armed forces. Memorial Day is distinct from Veteran’s Day in that it’s exclusively about those who have died while serving. Remembering the fallen fills us with a mixture of sadness and gratitude. It is through this act of remembrance that we maintain a connection with those who have given their lives to protect our freedom.
When we do this, these casualties of war remain present with us even though they have passed on. Isn’t it also true how the martyrs of the Bible—everyone from the twelve apostles to Stephen and Paul and beyond—come back fresh and alive when we read the Scripture? Isn’t it with joy that we as Christians remember that the death of the body is not the end of existence, but rather a gateway to eternal life, a truer life with the One who created us? That is the greatest encouragement of all: to know that through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we too can share the lifespan of our God.
So on Memorial Day, let’s honor our fallen warriors by recollecting their sacrifices, remembering that their deaths kept us safe and alive. But let’s also cling to the promises of Jesus, knowing that he has conquered death and shared that victory with those who believe. After all, when we think of what God has done for us, we do not just recall a grave, but an empty grave.