For many in America, Memorial Day marks the start of summer—three months of sun-drenched days, warm evenings, barbecues in the backyard, and vacations at the beach.

But largely lost in all that is the true meaning of Memorial Day—the willingness of men and women to answer the nation’s call, knowing the risks they face, willing to give their lives to protect and defend the country they love.

What an extraordinarily selfless thing to do! Jesus spoke of such a sacrifice in John 15:12–13: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

Following the Civil War, in remembrance of those they had lost, people from both the North and South decorated graves with flags and flowers on what came to be known as “Decoration Day.”

We call it Memorial Day now, to remember all of the men and women lost in all the wars this country has fought—nearly 1.2 million people. Their sacrifices have guaranteed the religious and civil freedoms that we enjoy, but in today’s culture, often take for granted. 

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly called the Iwo Jima Memorial, in Washington D.C.  I was reminded once again of the sacrifices made by “a few good men.” The fight for that small island in the Pacific caused 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 who were killed.

It’s hard to fathom what those brave Marines had to hold onto in the darkest moments of battle if they didn’t have their brothers at their side. We are no different. The battles are different, for sure, but still, they are battles. We are battling illnesses, the loss of loved ones, addictions. We are battling an enemy who has come to kill, steal and destroy.

But we are not fighting alone. We must fight in the Lord because the battle is the Lord’s. We must always remember that Jesus has defeated the darkness. We dare not fight without the armor needed to defeat the enemy if we’re going to win this battle. And we can never leave behind our fellow believers in the struggle. We are to always support and encourage them.

Likewise, as Christians, let us not forget these brave men and women who fought and sometimes died for us. We must have a heart for them, a burden for them. The Bible says to give honor to whom honor is due, and these American heroes deserve our honor and thanks.

And as believers, let us never take for granted the greatest sacrifice ever made—the death on the Cross by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.