We gather this morning as best we can to restore both our sense of commitment as we face the world as it is and inspiration to act in ways large and small that will foster better days for all. We are more when we are together: wiser, resilient, and more able.
Prelude Prayer for Peace, Anna Kojovic-Frodl & Gregory Mason, piano duet
Chalice Lighting words of welcome by Heather K Janules:
We come this day, called by war
By the suffering we inflict and endure
When minds across borders
fail to reason and compromise.
We come this day, called by loss,
The deaths of those who serve in our name,
Those whose lives end before their natural course
In service to a cause greater than their own.
We come this day, called by hope
Hope that we will, in some season,
Finally surrender our swords for ploughshares
And we come this day called by peace.
May we hear its song, may we proclaim its promise.
May our remembrance today renew our struggle
We can never stay or rest.
Hymn #298 Wake, Now, My Senses
Message for All Ages
Memorial Day weekend. The unofficial start of summer in the U.S.
And with Covid restrictions beginning to ease, many feel the new normal is at hand.
Even with the recent more March-like weather, we are feeling summer waiting for us just around the corner. The days are longer once again, and sunrises and sunsets seem to linger.
We are ready to be released. The vaccinated among us, as well as others, are ready to be free of our masks and are beginning to gather once more. Even as we know that for others in other parts of the world as well as nearby folks are still coming down with the disease. Who ever guessed the Yankees would have been among them?
So, we are ready to feel released, even as worry is never far away.
And so, this Memorial Day weekend, we may be forgiven for feeling that abundance is within reach even as we know that Memorial Day is, at heart, about those we have lost, traditionally to war, but this year how can we also not think of all those we have lost to the pandemic?
This season is like that: joy and woe woven fine once more.
This is a time of green grass, flags and barbeques, silent toasts, and the laying of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Abundance. Gratitude. And now, for a few moments at least, a time of stillness, a time to simply breathe, a time of silence, a time of reflection.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
And as both come from veterans of the U.S. war in Vietnam, 50 years ago now, I would ask that you listen particularly for the role of memory in them both.
Our first reading comes from Women at War, a study of fifty female military nurses, by Elizabeth Norman. This passage highlights the experiences the women had once they returned home, specifically now they were received by their families of origin.
Fathers, especially those who were also veterans, remained silent because they knew about war and how it changed people. It [was] difficult for them to think of their children, their little girls, as sullen or angry adults. One nurse, however, broke through her father’s silence. Her father, a wounded World War II marine, had dodged her war talk and it frustrated her. Finally, he let her talk and her tales about the twelve months she spent as an intensive care nurse came flooding out. His reaction startled her. [As she reported,] “He got tears in his eyes and told me, ‘I came home and I was a hero and you came home and you were [treated like] dirt. You were my baby and I didn’t want you to be hurt…. I’m sorry.’” He was able to express the guilt so many fathers, and mothers, preferred to burry.
After this encounter, the … ex-marine … became the main source of emotional support for his daughter. [Their talks] helped her put the Vietnam War in perspective. Six other fathers, all World War II veterans, eventually became their daughters’ confidants. These talks became an opportunity to bring the men and their daughters closer together.
At night, when everyone else in the house was asleep, the fathers and daughters sat around the kitchen table and talked about ‘their wars,’ the fathers talked of the difficulties of fighting in the jungle, the daughters talked about the pathos of watching men die. They both laughed at the humor of war. They understood each other and the experience.
Our second reading this morning comes from Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories about serving in Vietnam, The Things They Carried. This reading is actually a very short story in which O’Brien addresses his readers to make a distinction about what happened to him personally as an infantry soldier and the character he creates to play himself, his narrator. The story ends with O’Brien imagining a very plausible question his own daughter might ask him.
It’s time to be blunt.
I’m forty-three years old, true, and I’m a writer now, and a long time ago I walked through Quang Ngai Province as a foot soldier.
Almost everything else is invented.
But it’s not a game. It’s a form. Right here, right now, as I invent myself, I’m thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is. For instance, I want to tell you this: twenty years ago I watched a man die on a trail near the village of My Khe. I did not kill him. But I was present, you see, and my presence was guilt enough. I remember his face, which was not a pretty face, because his jaw was in his throat, and I remember feeling the burden of responsibility and grief. I blamed myself. And rightly so, because I was present.
But listen. Even that story is made up.
I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening truth.
Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.
Here is the story-truth. He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole. I killed him.
What stories can do, I guess, is make things present.
I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again.
“Daddy, tell the truth,” Kathleen can say, “did you ever kill anybody?” And I can say, honestly, “Of course not.”
Or I can say, honestly, “Yes.”
Reflection If Memory Serves, Rev. Eric Meter
Offertory Music Siciliano by J. Allock, Anna Kojovic-Frodl, organ
Benediction Barbara Pescan’s Memorial Day prayer
Spirit of Life
whom we have called by many names in
thanksgiving and in anguish —
Bless the poets and those who mourn
Send peace for the soldiers who did not make the wars
but whose lives were consumed by them
Let strong trees grow above graves far from home
Breathe through the arms of their branches
The earth will swallow your tears while the dead sing
“No more, never again, remember me.”
For the wounded ones, and those who received them back,
let there be someone ready when the memories come
when the scars pull and the buried metal moves
and forgiveness for those of us who were not there
for our ignorance
And in us, veterans in a forest of a thousand fallen promises,
let new leaves of protest grow on our stumps.
Give us courage to answer the cry of humanity’s pain
And with our bare hands, out of full hearts,
with all our intelligence
let us create the peace.
Postlude Op 16 No 5 2 by Scriabin, Anna Kojovic-Frodl,piano