Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 26, 2014
On this Memorial Day, I remember Clyde and Evelyn.
I served in a church near a VA hospital that had a nursing facility where two elderly parishioners resided, Clyde and Evelyn. They were both well into their 90’s, a husband and wife who never had children and apparently had no family except the family of the local congregation. They were not able to get to church any more, so I would visit them, as did other parishioners. I learned how they met in the military, how they had served in the Second World War together, how proud they were of that service.
One day, I got the call that Clyde had died in his sleep. He was to be buried at Arlington Cemetery, and the person at the hospital asked if I would officiate. I was honored to be asked. I got in my car and drove several hours to Washington for the service, and was directed to that place where he would be laid to rest. I had been to Arlington Cemetery before, but never to officiate at a service. As I drove past the thousands of gravestones, as I prepared to officiate at this service, I saw those gravestones in a new light. I realized in a new way that each stone represented a life, a person, a sacrifice, a sorrow for the group that would gather at the resting place for the service of committal. I thought about the cost of war and the brokenness of the human condition. I thought about the power of remembering each life. It was all about honor. It was an honor to be there.
There were no family members present. Evelyn could not travel. Nor could Clyde’s friends. It was me, with my Book of Common Prayer, representing the wider church, offering that polished liturgy which affirms our Easter hope. Two women were in attendance, volunteers who come to any funeral, so that no one is laid to rest without a “congregation”. And there were the soldiers, polished and crisply attentive offering military honors for Clyde. Folding the flag. Shooting the rifle. Playing taps. It was a holy moment. No homily or eulogy called for. I got in the car and drove home in silence. That seemed appropriate.
The next week, I got a call from that same VA hospital. Evelyn had died. Back in the car. Back to Arlington. Back to that gravesite. This couple, who had been inseparable for decades except for the last few days, were reunited. Same holy gathering. The officiant (me). My Prayer Book. The volunteer women. The soldiers, the guns, the bugle. An honor.
On Memorial Day, I remember Clyde and Evelyn, a window for me into the meaning of the day. I give thanks for their service, for their lives. I suspect we can each think of individuals to remember on this day, because frankly, sadly there are lots of them, too many of them. On this Memorial Day Weekend, 220,000 small flags have been placed, one in front of each gravestone at Arlington Cemetery. That’s a lot of flags. That’s a lot of lives. That’s a lot of war. That’s a lot of tears. That’s a lot to honor.
Today, don’t forget to remember. Remember the lives of those who were lost. Remember their loved ones. Pray for peace in our world. Amidst the joy and relaxation afforded by a vacation day, remember it’s also a holiday, a holy day. On this day off from work, with picnics and games and retail opportunities, carve out a few minutes in silence to remember. If it’s helpful, offer the prayers in the side column which focus on heroic service, and remember those who have died, and call us to work for a more peaceful and just world.
– Jay Sidebotham
A prayer for heroic service:
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A prayer from the Burial Office:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give thee thanks for all thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.