It's strange, in one sense, that Memorial Day should signal the traditional beginning of summer. Memorializing the dead seems a wintry task that might feature treeless branches and a severe cold that some say lasts forever. Only in the Christian sensibility does it make sense for Memorial Day to be followed by sun and warmth on earth as it is in heaven for those who know Christ.
Ever since the Olasky family moved to central Texas in 1983, summer for us hasn't so much meant a change of seasons; it's hot here in August, of course, but we can hit highs of 80 degrees in February or November. Mainly, summer here has meant no school and long trips and different experiences; for example, we live far from the ocean but we've made sure that each of our four sons has had the opportunity to experience the waves, and to react to them with defiance and determination.
Our eldest when he was small stood in the Atlantic between Susan and myself, holding our hands. The waves slapped him in the face and we pulled him back but he blinked the salt spray out of his eyes, laughed, and wanted more, more, more. Several years later our second oldest would run into the ocean, then scramble out and stand on shore shaking his fist at the waves, staying out of their reach but proclaiming that they could not make him afraid. Years later son No. 3 loved the Atlantic so much that he swam out too far and was swept out by an ebb tide. A lifeguard saved him.
Our youngest son last year built a sand fort right at the edge of the Pacific. When the waves knocked it down he built a new one, higher and stronger, with seagull feathers as flags, and proclaimed, "This fort is impenetrable." When a big wave did penetrate it he made it higher and stronger, but just in case filled a water bottle with sand and rammed it into the sand, saying "Even if this fort is destroyed, I'll know it was there." But the high tide came and washed away both Ben's construction and the bottle filled with sand.
So it is with life, which is one reason why we have Memorial Day. Life is filled with excitement, interest, and challenge, but when the battle is between a fort built on sand and the waves that hit it, the ocean always wins, sooner or later. Whether we like shouting at the ocean, splashing around and swimming in it, or trying to defend against it, we eventually leave, and the ocean remains.
Some believers in Darwin have trouble with the vastness of the ocean and the multitude of responses to it. Evolutionist David Hull complains about the "contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror" that he sees in the world. "Millions of sperm and ova are produced that never unite to form a zygote. Of the millions of zygotes that are produced, only a few ever reach maturity. On current estimates, 95 percent of the DNA that an organism contains has no function."
Kenneth Miller, in Finding Darwin's God, examines the Indian elephant and grouches that God overworked during an ancient summer: "In rapid succession He designed 10 (count em!) different Elephas species, giving up work only when He had completed Elephas maximus, the sole surviving species." Nine fort-like pachyderm species gone: Why? And while we're asking, why did God place two horns on the African rhinoceroses but only one on the Indian variety? Why do we have 250,000 species of beetles? Why, why, why? We ask, and God's ocean keeps coming with its excitement and mystery.
Britain's Matthew Arnold, 135 years ago, looked out on dark waters from Dover Beach and wrote that "The sea of faith/ Was once, too, at the full ... / But now I only hear/ Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar ... /And we are here as on a darkling plain/ Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ Where ignorant armies clash by night." Arnold's wintry ode was prophetic for the 20th century, but on brightly-lit, summer-unveiling days in the 21st it is hard to be so pessimistic, for the ocean keeps coming.
And that's why a Christian day of memorial is different from any other. Easter, after all, is a memorial day, but on it Christians do not say, "He is dead, indeed"; the good news is that "He is risen, indeed." So too will be multitudes of believers, a mighty ocean full. A Memorial Day without Christ is like the cold times for Narnia that C.S. Lewis described: "Always winter but never Christmas." A Memorial Day with Christ is an endless summer with sand forts that last.