Devotional Word for Memorial Day 2020
Thanks for taking time on this Memorial Day holiday to share in some devotional thoughts. Our Memorial Day observances originated in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. On May 30, 1868, the Grand Army of Republic conducted a memorial service in Arlington National Cemetery. Hymns were sung, prayers offered, and flowers placed on graves of Union and Confederate alike.
Originally called Decoration Day because of the laying of flowers on the graves, it’s always been held in May as a time when the most flowers are in bloom. In 1971 Congress declared that henceforward Memorial Day, a holiday to remember and honor those who died in the service of their country, would be observed on the last Monday of May.
We do remember and give thanks to God for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We honor them and the cause which they served.
As Christians, we know that while we’re citizens of the United States, yet, as Paul says, Our citizenship is in heaven. [Phil. 3:20] Our spiritual homeland also has many who have died in her cause. We call them martyrs, a word that means witness. On this Memorial Day I want to present to you a faithful witness who was burned at the stake in the city of Smyrna on February 23 in the year 155. His name is Polycarp and he was bishop of the church at Smyrna. After his death, the account of his martyrdom was written out and circulated by the Church of Smyrna.
Polycarp was 86 years old when he died. If you do the math, then you’ll see he was born in the year 69, just one year before the fall of Jerusalem to Titus and the 10th Roman Legion. Here are the details of his faithful witness:
. . . three days before his arrest, he had a vision and saw his pillow blazing with fire, and turning to those with him he said, “I must be burned alive.”
. . . late in the evening the policemen found him in bed in the upper room of a small cottage. Even so he could have escaped to another farm, but he did not wish to do so, saying, “God’s will be done.”
. . . the chief of police met him and transferred him to [his] carriage, and tried to persuade him, saying, “What harm is there to say ‘Lord Caesar,’ and to offer incense and all that sort of thing, and to save yourself?” At first Polycarp did not answer, but when they persisted he said, “I am not going to do what you advise me.”
. . . When he was finally brought to the arena . . . the proconsul asked him if he were Polycarp. And when he confessed that he was, he tried to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Have respect to your age . . . swear by the fortune of Caesar; change your mind; say, ‘Away with the atheists!’” But Polycarp looked with earnest face at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the arena, and motioned to them with his hand. Then, groaning and looking up to heaven, he said, “Away with the atheists!”
But the proconsul was insistent and said: “Take the oath, and I shall release you. Curse Christ.” Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? . . . listen plainly, “I am a Christian. But if you desire to learn the teaching of Christianity, appoint a day and give me a hearing.”
. . . But the proconsul said, “I have wild beasts. I shall throw you to them if you do not change your mind.” But Polycarp said, “Call them. For repentance from the better to the worse is not permitted us; but it is noble to change from what is evil to what is righteous.”
And again the proconsul said to him, “I shall have you consumed with fire, if you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.”
The proconsul is amazed at Polycarp’s consistent, calm, and unflinching witness. He sends his herald three times in a circuit of the arena crying out “Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian.” Then the crowd calls for him to be burned alive. Wood is quickly gathered. Before they light the fire, Polycarp asks for time to pray. It is granted. Here is part of what he prayed:
“Lord God Almighty . . . I bless Thee, because Thou hast deemed me worthy of this day and hour, to take my part in the number of the martyrs . . . for this and for everything I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee.” And when he had concluded the Amen and finished his prayer, the men attending to the fire lighted it. Let us pray: O Lord God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – we too praise You, bless You, and glorify You. You alone are God and You reign over all. Thank You for all those who have died defending our land in the 1700s, the 1800s, the 1900s, and now the 2000s. We are indebted to them. Thank You also for all those who over the millennia who have died as witnesses for You and Your truth. Their deaths have not been in vain. Your Word, Your truth, and Your kingdom continue to grow. May we in our day and in our time be faithful witnesses for You. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the faithful witness before Pilate. Amen.