Monday, May 21, 2012

Memorial Day...Life around the Church Yard

As the Memorial Day holiday fast approaches, I am mindful of a particular area of pastoral oversight I experience on a daily basis here at St. Peter's. Our ministry here at the corner of Main and Devoe in Spotswood is not just limited to the quick, if you will, of the community. We also minister to the dead. Our Church Yard has been a burying ground for centuries. In fact, if the histories are to be believed the area the church is built on was first a place of burial for the new town, long before there are a building on the site dedicated for worship.

As you approach the church at St. Peter's from either parking lot, or from the street, you first have to pass the many burials that surround our sanctuary. Those who sleep in Christ in our midst range in dates from just this past month to a few interred almost three hundred years ago. Some markers are new, only just installed. Others now fall into a category we use for those eroded or broken beyond repair: "illegible marker." Of those, we know the identities of most though some names have been lost over the many years. We can only now commend that they are still known to God, and we continue to hold them in prayer and their remains in sacred trust.

Still, there are moments when this garden of stone takes on new life. In the winter, just before Christmas and usually during the season of Advent, the grave blankets appear. These carpets of evergreen, white flowers and red ribbon mark a family's or loved one's tribute to their departed beloved. It is a mark of the ever-green renewal of creation in the seasons, of hope for new life even as the winter's grey dormancy enfolds us.

Likewise, in early spring, palm crosses appear-followed quickly by pots of narcissus, daffodils and plantings of tulips and hyacinth. Families mark the season, and promise, of resurrection and new life with those sweet-smelling blooms.

Memorial day brings another moment, and in this historic yard we see it in a profound way. The local American Legion, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, each take successive years to walk the cemeteries of the local community and install medallions and flags on the graves of those who have served the country in its military conflicts. For such an old yard, the flags wave from a large number of markers. I have noted members of that fraternity from nearly all the conflicts men (and women) have served from our community. There are several Revolutionary War, Civil War, Spanish American, World Wat I and II, Korean and Viet Nam veterans we memorialize with those flags and mark their service.

As well, there are red flags with yellow insignia that appear at the same time. These mark those who served in our local volunteer fire department. For the bravest, we give thanks...

In this I am aware of the grace that we have the opportunity to see our parish, not just in the present moment with our cares and concerns, but as well to embrace that while we are here to praise God...we are also heirs to a heritage that expands into lives lived in Christ well beyond our imagining. This is our moment, as much as it was theirs-who sleep now beneath the soil.

And, our legacy chargeis to pass these Memorial Days on to those who follow us.

One day, truly, we will all fall into the "illegible marker" category. That is the reality of time passing...but for now, I rejoice and give thanks that I can pray with, and offer gratitude for, the witness of all these beloved of God who have gone before me....

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