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Posts Tagged ‘cenotaph’

Today at Church was Remembrance Sunday.  A parishioner kindly loaned us a magic box filled with medals, photos, a canteen and a metal helmet from the second world war.  The pictures were lovingly arranged in the worship space at the base of the altar, next to a white styrofoam cross.

Each year we bring out the battered cross, now in it’s 8th year.  It’s seen better days but it’s used for illustrative purposes.  This morning I brought the children up for Children’s Focus and they were mesmerized with the helmet.  Each in turn put in on their little heads and remarked how heavy it was.  I put it on my head too and yes, its really heavy!

I held up a large red poppy and asked them what it was.  The congregation recited “In Flanders Fields” and I preached on the joys of being Canadian and living a Life of Service…to God, to Queen (or King) and Country.

Each person is given a poppy to wear and they are asked to remove it after communion to pin it on the battered white cross.  The cross represents all that which wears us down.  Things we do, that we shouldn’t.  Things we don’t do, but should.  Things we say and regret.  Things we should say, but don’t.  One by one every person in the congregation, old and young alike, pins their poppy on the cross.  I suspect some are thanking our veterans.  I suspect some are remembering their family members who served, or their own military service.  I suspect some pin it silently.

For me, I remember my grand-dad, my uncle and my dad.  I grieve that they are dead, feel pride for their service, and wish there was a better word than “Thank you” to express my appreciation.

This year the Church was full, it was wonderful to see.  The choir sang two anthems.  We, as a congregation laughed and cried, remembered and respected, represented and sought.  And in the midst of this, God was there.

On Monday night, cadets from the 201 Squadron will gather between 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm to hold a vigil.  Candles will be lit in memory of those who have died, and they will keep silence.  The vigil candles will remain for the duration of the service on Tuesday.

The Community will gather on Tuesday, just before 11:00.  It will be cold, wet and windy (it always is). And we will gather, as many as are able, to remember.

We will observe two minutes of silence.  And then reveille will awaken us from our reverie.  “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”  Amen.

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The past few days have been extremely emotional – on the verge of horrendous.

Last Thursday the Church was packed to overflowing as we gathered to celebrate the life of R. A man well-loved and never forgotten. He was 85 years old and died from ALS. He had a full and rich life, serving his country, his community. Marrying his sweetheart for 48 years and raising two sons. He was, as the Bible says, “old and filled with days”.

His Celebration of Life was, indeed, a Celebration. The Church was filled with gales of laughter as we remembered what a practical joker R was, and how he always found a way to make us laugh.

When the Church service ended, I went to the Cemetery while some folks from the Church tidied up. By the time I returned from the Cemetery the Church was locked up tight…with my keys and cell phone inside. It was one more practical joke from R. For the record, I did get back in the Church, about three hours later. And it is a story I will remember and will always laugh as I tell it.

Sunday was our Remembrance Sunday service at the Church. There was a wreath that had stayed from R’s Celebration of Life. We have a white styrofoam cross that we pin poppies to after Communion to change an instrument of hate and destruction into an instrument of peace and love.

During my homily I told the story of my Grand-dad whom I have never met. He was wounded in the First World War and suffered for the rest of his life from neurological issues. He married his sweetheart and had three children, one of whom became my Mam. But he was always a broken man.

I also told the story of two friends of mine. A clergy couple out on the East Coast of this Country. She is a priest in Halifax, and he serves as Chaplain aboard HMCS Toronto. Theirs is a love-story for the ages; a testament to their faith, love and commitment to each other, and to God.

Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to Baby H. The Church was filled with young people in shock, sobbing uncontrollably and looking for answers. A few members of the Congregation came to offer their prayers and support to the family; as well as to seek peace and comfort themselves. In short, there was a Church filled with people looking for answers.

It felt like they were all looking at me.

I had nothing.

No words. I tried my hardest to write an authentic homily, but everything I tried sounded hollow and unconvincing. “He’s in the arms of Jesus”. Yes, but he should be in his mother’s arms.
“He’s gone home to be with the One who Created him.” Yes, but he should have gone home to his brother.

For the love of God, he was 28 DAYS OLD. Not enough time to learn to speak, never mind have a full life and die “old and filled with days”. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. It’s not fair. It’s not right.

And then it struck me.

I didn’t have to say anything. My words would not be the salve that would soothe. The Community would extend their heartfelt support to each other.

At Baby H’s baptism I brought a candle, the intention of which was to light it when he got better and went home. He didn’t get better so the candle remains unlit. As I began the service on Sunday I lit a new baptism candle from the paschal candle (which signifies new life) and let it burn through the service and during the reception.

The readings were all chosen because they dealt with children, commissioning and being still in the silence. God wasn’t making an appearance in the machinery beeping and chiming. God wasn’t making an appearance in my raging against the wind and the pain. God was in the stillness, where God always is; and I needed to remind myself, as well as the Congregation; that sometimes we need to simply ‘be still’ and be in the presence of the Sacred.

As usual I wasn’t wearing shoes. I had intended to mention why before the service began, but forgot. Several people asked me about it afterwards and I told them why. They nodded as though they understood.

Today was Remembrance Day, one day after Baby H’s funeral.

The weather was horrible, it was cold, wet and sleeting. The crowd huddled together, comprised of men and women, young and old, children and seniors. Umbrellas covered strangers and friends, and we united to Remember those who laid down their lives, those who returned wounded, those who served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces.

We laid a wreath at our small town service for LGBT Members of the Armed Forces, past and present. The wreath had a rainbow ribbon on it and the purple sash said “Lest We Forget”. Poignant words indeed.

So much loss over the past while.

So much pain.

So much emptiness.

So much fatigue.

And so tonight, as I work far too late, I look out the window at the snow that is gently falling. I have just eaten something that I know I will feel badly about in the morning, but right now I need comfort.

Tomorrow is going to be a quiet day. I will return the house to order. I will do some computer work. I will nap. I may not even get dressed. And let today be a snow day. A Sabbath Day.

The title of this post is When Words Fail, but I’ve written nearly 1,000 of them.

I think, what it all boils down to, is being brave enough to be authentic. Of being caring enough to be vulnerable. Of being human enough to feel and to show those whom you serve all of these things.

We may not have the magic words. We likely have the same questions as you.

We may not have the answers. But we do have each other.

Thanks be to God.

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On Sunday I led two worship services at the Church. The early (8:00 a.m.) service was Holy Communion. The second service should have been 10:30 Holy Communion, but we changed the time to 9:30 and the service to Morning Prayer so that I was able to be at the Cenotaph to lead that service for 10:45.

We had record crowds at our small town cenotaph, with likely 400 people in attendance. The Cadet corps was out in force. We had representatives from all levels of government who came to lay wreaths as well as many community leaders. And we had children…lots and lots of children who came to see what was going on.

My reflection was intended to be something about giving thanks for the lives of those men and women who selflessly gave of themselves. Instead it morphed into a more politically toned reflection ruminating that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Our government has been sending our young into battle for generations, and although we have smarter weapons, we still sacrifice young lives in the same way.

What’s worse than those who die are those who return psychologically and spiritually damaged. They become the forgotten, moreso than our war dead.

I challenged the congregation and the community to begin with a place of love. To live their lives without conflict, to seek peaceful resolution wherever possible. And to never, ever forget those who have and continue to give their lives for service to their country.

Perhaps if we suggested the members of parliament who vote on how many troops to send, were recruited to lead those troops, the response would be different?

I come from a proud military heritage. My grandfather was gassed during the first world war. He was a British soldier stationed in Belgium. His unit was traveling in the back of a lorry (truck) and was gassed. He pulled out the men who could not get themselves out, ingesting a large amount of the gas. It damaged his nervous system and while he received the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) and was recommended for the VC (Victoria Cross) he still returned to England damaged. He would never speak of his time overseas, other than to the man who would become my dad. It was a time best left forgotten as it was too difficult to remember.

And yet, here we are, almost a century later, and we are still doing things in the same way.

Remember, not only those who gave their lives, but those who came back and who continue to come back damaged. Those psychological scars are not physically apparent, but the shadow behind their eyes is unmistakable. There must be a better way. A way to begin with love. And to always, always remember.

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