Memorial Day Weekend
by Rev. Scott Summerville
This week we lost a dear friend, Muriel. She was a regular at the Wednesday discussion group. For five years she made lunch for me every Wednesday. That makes me a biased observer of her qualities, but she was a remarkable person. From the time she got her diagnosis of untreatable cancer earlier this year until her death on Friday, she maintained the same serenity and gracious spirit.
Because she was able to be at home under hospice care, the congregation was able to be in a continuing relationship with her over these months. The Wednesday discussion group continued to meet every week in her home when she was no longer able to go out. In fact the group met there last Wednesday, and the topic of discussion was: the things that matter most in life.
On the Memorial Day Weekend, with Muriel’s passing, my thoughts turn to her husband Herb, who died four years ago. Herb was a World War II combat veteran. It seems fitting to mention him on this day. Despite becoming legally blind, Herb led a very successful business life. He had a way with people. He once described to me an experience in combat that transformed his life.
He was an 18-year-old kid. He had waded out of a boat with thousands of other soldiers onto a beach somewhere in the Pacific. It was chaos. Unimaginable noise. Unimaginable violence. Death was all around. On that beach he had a sudden experience of calm. He said that from that moment on and continuing into his later life there was the assurance that whatever he went through, he would not be alone. He would have to draw on that faith many times before the war was over, and again when he lost his vision, and again when he lost his son, who died tragically as a young man.
Some people survive war and find clarity and focus about life from their experience of war. Other individuals survive war physically, but they are devastated emotionally and spiritually. When I was a young pastor visiting families in the neighborhood around my church, I met such a person. He, too, had served in combat in the Second World War. He participated in the bloody battles to liberate Italy. I knew something was not right with him, but I did not know the cause of it. I knew this man for quite a while before he shared with me an event that shattered his life.
One day when his unit was in combat in close quarters with the enemy, he threw a hand grenade into a basement. As the hand grenade flew through the air he saw a woman gesturing toward the basement – she was screaming something he did not understand at first: “Bambinas! Bambinas!” There were no enemy soldiers in the basement as it turned out. There were children.
These things happen all the time in warfare. When they do, there are the visible victims and there are the invisible victims, who carry spiritual scars for the rest of their lives. On this Memorial Day I think of a member of this congregation who has a smile that could get him a tooth paste commercial. At one of our men’s breakfasts he told the story of when he was a young soldier in the Second World War, driving a jeep, when a plane swooped down with its machine guns blazing, strafing them. He managed to jump out of the jeep into a ditch, and he was not hit. The story stuck in my mind. Sometimes when I see his warm smile it occurs to me, “Somebody was trying to shoot you! Why would anyone ever want to shoot you!”
Then there is George, husband of our minister of music. He was a kid too, 18 years old, when people were shooting at him. It was Vietnam. This time the bullets did not miss. They tore up his legs. Decades later he continues to undergo surgery and to endure much pain.
Some of you have your personal recollections of war as a combatant. Some of you have memories of relatives and friends killed, wounded, scarred physically and mentally by war. War can be glorified, but only from a distance; up close it is always personal and tragic.
It is a custom among Christians to exchange the peace of Christ: the peace of the Lord be with you … and also with you. It is very easy to say these words.
But think about what we are saying: we are claiming that each of us carries inside ourselves this thing we call the peace of the Christ – and we are able to offer that peace to one another. It is not the same as, “Hi, how are you?” These are not just words being exchanged. We are extending to one another the peace of Christ. When we exchange the peace of Christ, we are making an affirmation of faith and we are making a commitment to peacemaking.
If I claim to be able to offer the peace of Christ to another person, I am saying that this peace is already at work in me and at work among us. If we extend to one another the peace of Christ, it means we have made a commitment to working on broken or difficult relationships; we have made a commitment to seek and to offer forgiveness. It means that we are part of a community of faith that is committed to peace.
Today in our Memorial Day ritual we cast the ashes of grief
and the stones of anger and the stones of our own self-ighteousness and hardness of heart and the blossoms of hope upon the waters of life, and we have prayed to God to heal the broken and to renew our commitment to peace.
In that spirit I send you out to share the peace of Christ. As a member of this church, be one who makes peace. As a part of your family, be one who makes peace. As a citizen, as a human being, work for things that make for peace.
Shalom, salaam, grace and peace to you.