Have you ever asked yourself why we fly the flag at half-staff at times of national mourning? It’s one of those things we just take for granted. But it is so much a part of our national culture that Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the United States Code actually provides rules for regulating how, when, and for how long it is flown that way.
The death of a current or former president lowers the flag for 30 days, while the current vice president, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Speaker of the House receive 10 days of half-staff flying following their deaths. Flags fly at half-staff from the day of death until the date of interment for cabinet secretaries, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, former vice presidents, and the governors of states.
The death of a current member of Congress lowers the flag to half-staff on the day of death and following day. And of course, the president can, by executive order, declare the flag to be lowered to mark days of mourning for other special occasions, as well. Following the September 11th attacks, for example, President Bush ordered the flag be flown at half-staff until September 16th.
According to the fact finding gurus at MentalFloss.com, “The oldest commonly accepted reference to a half-staff flag dates back to 1612, when the captain of the British ship Heart’s Ease died on a journey to Canada. When the ship returned to London, it was flying its flag at half-mast to honor the departed captain. According to one line of scholarly thinking, “by lowering the Union Jack, the sailors were making room for the invisible flag of Death. This explanation jibes with the British tradition of flying a ‘half-staff’ flag exactly one flag’s width lower than its normal position to underscore that Death’s flag is flapping above it."
While the Union Jack, the American Flag, and flags of other countries are all flown at half-staff on days of special commemoration and mourning, there is an invisible “death flag” which flies over all humanity. It is the death flag commemorating the heroic sacrifice of the Son of Man. And while we lower our flags in honor of fallen soldiers and war heroes, politicians and patriots who gave their lives in service to our country, Jesus came and gave His life in service to the entire human race,
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).