May 23, 2018
“And (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19 NIV
We experience deep emotion before we learn the words for it. My parents bundled us kids in the Rambler station wagon for a road trip to Missouri every year the minute school set us loose for the summer. The memories of my beloved grandma standing by the back porch door waiting still evoke the crunch of cinders on the driveway from the coal burning furnace, and the smell of vegetation from muddy farm boots. Though I’ve known much love, few other moments rival the visceral delight of being swept up in that waiting embrace.
As the season would have it, I would soon wake to an unfamiliar wind. Something else held the attention of my grandmother and aunts, and I recall the momentary alarm of wondering where they went. My mother explained that it was Decoration Day, and we would be leaving for the cemetery after breakfast. We would be laying armloads of lilacs and peonies wrapped in paper towels and aluminum foil in their bronze vases at graves, to remember.
Remember what? My memory at that point went back about three years. “We remember the men and women who fought in wars and died to protect our country and our freedom. We remember your Uncle Marvin and your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather who died serving in the Revolutionary War. We remember your Aunt Betsy, a nurse in World War II. It was my first experience of shared grief, and the earliest ancestry lesson long before there was a .com to analyze my DNA and tell me all about it.
The origins of Decoration Day, now Memorial Day designated annually on the last Monday of May are legion. A dozen versions of how it began, from the official designations of the White House to the honoring of dead by freed slaves after the Civil War, it has always been important to remember.
Perhaps it was through this holiday, Decoration Day, more than any other, that I first learned of shared grief, communal gratitude, and the honoring of those who sacrificed before us for a life I took for granted. I had no idea what political party my tribe of relatives followed, but I know this now. We human creatures are bound together by common gratitude for the great cloud of witnesses who preceded us, for the stories we know and those we never knew.
Their stories echo across time from the shadows of graves behind the parsonage and from every tucked-in country cemetery at the crest of ancestral farms. Great-grandsons cut the weeds even now, clearing the way for the grandmothers and aunts of our generation this weekend, to remember. “Remember me.”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you,
Pastor Anna V. Copeland
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