The world loves memorials. The Marine Corps War Memorial has significance for me being a former Marine. Then again, once a Marine always a Marine. Okay. I remember reading Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley about the lives of the men depicted in the Marine Corps War Memorial. They raised a flag, they got a memorial. In Boise, next to the library and along the greenbelt, is the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. We are currently reading Anne’s diary in my class and have found that she was dead wrong when she wrote, “Neither I – nor for that matter anyone else – will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl” (p. 2). The world has certainly been interested in her life and in her words. In 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to the public in Washington D.C. King’s influence as a civil rights leader and Baptist minister can never be under-appreciated. In a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King said of himself,
“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
Justice, peace and righteousness were paramount; nothing else mattered.
In Mark 14, we read about a woman, Mary of Bethany, whose singular deed causes Jesus to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (V.9). I’ve heard the gospel preached in the church, have heard the gospel preached on the streets and have done it myself; however, very rarely is Mary of Bethany ever mentioned.
It was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus is at the house of Simon the leper, then Mary appears. She has an alabaster flask and inside “very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on his head” (V. 3). That was the extent of her actions and worthy of being memorialized. But why? She did not raise a flag during a dangerous battle. She did not write a diary during a time of intense racial persecution where an existential threat was as real as the air needed to breath. Nor was Mary of Bethany a famous leader of the people like Dr. King, organizing folks against prejudice, speaking to thousands on some hill side in Bethany. No. She poured costly oil on Jesus’s head.
Some in the house were appalled by Mary’s actions. They said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?” (V.4) Wasted on the Lord? They would have rather seen Mary sell the oil and the money given to the poor. But then Jesus speaks.
“Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me.” (V.6).
“For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always” (V.7).
“She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (V.8).
She did something good. She did what she could, with what little she had because Jesus’s time was at hand. To be sure, this ointment was precious and valuable. Mary could have sold it and kept the money for herself. But instead, she gave it to Jesus. Maybe she sensed His time was at hand and she wanted to give Him some final gift as a symbol of what He meant to her. Mary is a memorial because as a Christian, her example, is a good one to emulate.
The question is, how much of what we have as Christians, do we give to our Lord? Do we give all like Mary? If not, why not?
We can use our precious time in service to others as a service to God. We can visit those in prison. We can use our talents to give Him glory, to not boast in what we can do but in what He’s done for us. This is a memorial.
We can use our possessions to bless others; to bless our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to bless strangers, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry. This is a memorial.
In short, we look at our lives, we look at what we have and what we’re capable of and ask: How can I give this thing, whatever it is, lovingly to my Lord for everything He has done, and He’s done a lot.
Jesus never raised a flag in battle but He did conquered death (2 Timothy 1:10). He never wrote a diary filled with words but that’s all good because He is “the Word” (John 1:1) and his words “are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
As much as other memorials, memorialize the acts and lives of people, they pale in comparison to what Jesus has done:
Here is mankind’s estate:
“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8)
“and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
But God intervened on our behalf, He is not distant or impersonal:
“just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20).
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
As we believe on Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior:
“We shall be saved from wrath through Him; For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11).
This is work worth remembering and being thankful for. About Jesus, Dr. King goes on to say:
“Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, “He’s King of Kings.” And again I can hear somebody saying, “He’s Lord of Lords.” Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying,”In Christ there is no East nor West.” And then they go on and talk about, “In Him there’s no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world.” He didn’t have anything. He just went around serving and doing good.”
Serving and doing good is the Christian’s mission along with proclaiming the gospel and giving Him glory. In this sermon, Dr. King talks about what he would like his eulogy to sound like when that day comes. And as I read it, I think, this is the kind of life that leads to a memorial. But not a memorial for us primarily, but as a memorial to God for changing us in the first place to be able to live this kind of life. Dr. King says:
“Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.”
Nor will ours.