By Steven Norris
“Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come.” I distinctly remember holding the hymnal, singing the second verse of Robert Robinson’s classic, “Come Thou Fount,” and thinking, “What in the world are we singing?” At the time, my only reference for an Ebenezer came from Charles Dickins’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.” What in the world did Scrooge have to do with what we were doing at church on Sunday morning?
It wasn’t until much later that I learned of the biblical connections to the name. Ebenezer is a Hebrew word that is explained in 1 Samuel 7:12. After God gave the Israelites victory over their Philistine enemies, Samuel sets up a memorial stone between the battlefields, names it Ebenezer, and says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Memorial Day weekend reminds us just how important such memorials can be. They tell and retell some of our most cherished stories — as individuals, as a community, and as a nation. At its most basic, a memorial serves as a symbol pointing beyond itself to something deeper, greater, and more profound.
This weekend will be filled with symbols. No doubt, we will see our Commander-in-Chief lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. Cities and towns around the country will mark this day with proclamations and moments of silence. If you happen to attend a ball game or sporting event, there will likely be a special color guard or fighter jet flyover. These can be meaningful acts.
However, we will no doubt see these moments of memorial co-opted for personal gain and benefit as well. Retailers will take advantage of the long weekend with countless sales. Grills will be cleaned off for the annual cookout. Families will take advantage of the extra day off to squeeze in another trip to the lake or a mini-vacation.
I don’t mean to be critical. Many of these are celebrations of life — life that would not be possible without the sacrifice of others. However, I hope that we might pause long enough to ensure that there is substance undergirding our symbolism.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat mesmerized by two Air Force officers as they slowly and meticulously folded the flag draped over the coffin of a church member. Every movement was intentional and calculated. Every fold of the Stars and Stripes crisp and tight. Every detail checked and double-checked.
Taking a knee, the officer said with deep respect to the widow, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
The power of memorials lies in their ability to reorient us. They serve as an antidote to forgetfulness and remind us where we have been. Memorials have the power to tell us who we are and direct us toward who we want to become. This weekend, may we “raise our Ebenezer” — remembering those who embodied the words of Jesus: “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”