Today we look backwards upon our history with wonder and with gratitude to God. We look forward to a destiny that will bring the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdom of heaven into closer communion. Our tongues break into song and our souls into thanksgiving as we contemplate the mercies which have been our lot. When dangers threatened relief was always near. When discouragement came to our people, the heavens opened in brightness above us and the bow of promise spanned the continent. . . .
The War of the Revolution determined and settled our political status among the peoples of the earth. The confederacy, which followed the Declaration of Independence, demonstrated the weakness of the foundation upon which we expected to build. The Constitution of 1789 welded the states together into an unbroken and unending chain of common interest. The War of 1812 strengthened our national bond, unified the people, and proved to the world our ability to maintain our rights. . . . Step by step we have ascended the heights which no other nation has reached. . . .
Today in this memorial service, we remember our beloved died for their part in the solution of the great problems of humanity. Not only did they freely offer themselves upon their country’s altar – a sacrifice for the great interests of the present – but by their blood they became the oracle and prophet of the future. . . . So we come on this Memorial Day to record our indebtedness to the patriotic soldiers, pay our homage for their bravery, express our sympathy with their sufferings, and our admiration for their achievements, pledging ourselves to stand loyally by the institutions for which they nobly died.
As we gather on this day – to us a day of sad and pleasant memories, a day of instructive retrospect and of profitable anticipation for a glorious future – we meet with our dead here in this quiet God’s acre, there in National Cemeteries, or perhaps far away in lonely and forgotten spots where friendly hands have never strewn flowers. From all these hallowed places- yea, even from the depths of the sea – our dead comrades keep watch over the nation’s honor. We are here today, a grateful multitude, to pay such a tribute as we can to the heroes who did so much for us. We strew flowers of beauty upon their grassy mounds and speak words of love and kindly remembrance; we shed tears of sorrow for the departed and express words of sympathy for the bereaved as though but yesterday they had passed out of our sight. We seem today to live over again the eventful past. We hear again the bugle call echoing over the hills; we see the sad partings and the long farewells; victory and defeat, bereavement and earth, all pass before us in review. Our spirits hold communication with the comrades of long ago. We know that in the body they will not again answer roll call this side of the Pearly Gates, but their influence will live until the reveille of the resurrection morning shall bid them rise for the great review. . . .
It has been said that the particular genius of this memorial season is that while other holidays praise institutions, this glorifies men, honors the private citizens and the seemingly obscure soldier. Walter Scott described Old Mortality as going through the cemeteries of Scotland, chiseling anew upon the tombstones the names that time had well nigh obliterated [from Sir Walter Scott’s “Old Morality,” in Tales of My Landlord (Edinburgh: 1816), Vols. II-IV]. Asked to explain his zeal for the memory of these worthies, the old man replied that he wished to see the heroes of yesterday march forward side by side with the youth of today. That nation suffers a great calamity whose children and youth have separated themselves from yesterday’s battlefields and victories and have forgotten to honor the memories of their fathers – the sages and statesmen from whom they have received a priceless heritage. . . .
To the Christian people of this country, the broad and humanizing advantages of republicanism ought to be incentives to more virtuous activity and stimulants to higher patriotic requirements in our politics – they should be to the goodness and intelligence of the country an earnest pledge for the redemption of the ballot from unholy contamination. Let absolute truth (and that embraces all that is righteous in governments and in men) be the grand ideal that this nation shall hold up before the world. . . .
Christ, the Exemplar, whilst the originator of new ideas for human conduct, was also the collection of many of the old and useful which had been abused and misapplied. For the doctrines of revenge and retaliation, He gave us that of forgiveness of injuries. For the cure of dissensions and unhappy differences, He gave us due consideration for the opinions of others. For social wrongs, He gave us purity of life. For the peace of the state, He gave us respect for magistrates and rulers and obedience to the laws. For civil progress, He gave us trust in God and brotherly kindness in our daily intercourse with men. He restrained our evil tendencies by a reiteration of the Ten Commandments. He softened our natures by the Beatitudes and enlarged our lives and increased our hopes by the new commandments that He gave us. He taught us the wondrous idea of love with the Divine assurance that it was the all-powerful principle for good – “the fulfilling of the law” [Romans 13:10]. How the cross, as the emblem of that Christianity, has been revered and loved throughout the civilized world. . . .
And so on this Memorial Day we must not forget the sources from which have come these national blessings. We go back in our history and thank God for the Puritan spirit and for that deliverance from religious oppression which brought to our shores the Mayflower and its heroic company who sought upon our soil freedom to worship God. We are thankful, too, for the prayer and song which hallowed Plymouth – a prayer whose strains still linger upon the New England air and will forever be wafted upon the winds back and forth to the utmost boundaries of our Union. . . .
[B]eloved, may the God of peace that brought from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. [Hebrews 13:21]