When it was first celebrated in the 1860s, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. Americans from the North and South would pause to place floral decorations on the graves of those who had lost their lives in the Civil War. May was chosen because flowers would be in bloom throughout the United States. As the years went by, and Americans fought in many more wars, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day. It was broadened to recognize all those who, though killed in the service of their country, deserve to never be forgotten.
When I talk to prisoners, they sometimes tell me they feel like, though living, they have already died. Their cells can feel as dark and constricting as a tomb, they have little or no contact with the outside world, and their friends and relatives often cut off ties. Unlike a soldier who falls in battle, a prisoner is both gone and forgotten.
Without a doubt, those who have committed crimes need to be held accountable for their actions. However, contrary to the dominant message in our culture, Scripture challenges us not to forget those behind bars. All of us, whether free or incarcerated, would be imprisoned by our sins without Jesus, and that’s why God calls us to shed the light of His love in the darkest places.
This Memorial Day, we join all Americans in honoring those who fought and died for our country. But we also remember those behind bars whom Jesus died to save. By His grace, they can be brought up from the “grave,” transformed and restored to lead new lives.