Jay Thomas Aubin, 36
Ryan Anthony Beaupre, 30
Therrel Shane Childers, 30
Jose Antonio Gutierrez, 22
Brian Matthew Kennedy, 25
Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, 29
Brandon Scott Tobler, 19
Eric James Orlowski, 26
Thomas Mullen Adams, 22
Jamaal Rashard Addison, 37
The rhythm pulsed like that for two and a half hours. The chimes tolling all 2, 265 heartbeats gone silent in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In that time, the weather changed from warm and sunny to brisk and slightly overcast. As the necrology droned on the granite steps of the church became colder and harder beneath our feet. The wind swirled radiant sugar maple leaves above our heads. A parishioner who took part reading the names of our fallen American servicemen and women said the leaves fluttered to our feet and about us like the blood of the soldiers we had gathered to honor. The symbolism of The Fallen and the falling leaves was not missed by anyone. For a fleeting moment we connected with each departed soul and, for me personally, with their grieving mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.
Tuesday of last week was All Saints’ Day, the feast day in which the church remembers its dead who have entered into the joy of God’ s kingdom. Historically, the feast of All Saints commemorated those saints, extraordinary and quite ordinary, who crowned their professions with heroic deaths. So it seemed only fitting that we would celebrate a healing Eucharist on Tuesday in their honor. We heard the words from Ecclesiasticus, as we did this morning, Let us now sing the praises of famous people& some of them have left behind a name, so that others may declare their praise and in response to that charge we called out those names in the public square for the world to hear. But even more important for us was the reminder of those who have died in conflicts around the world where humans collide in war and in places such as Pakistan where Mother Nature shook it and broke it to bits. These lost souls may have left behind no name, but as the writer of Ecclesiasticus reminds us, they are certainly more than a causality statistic. Beginning at verse 9, But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born& But these also were people of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation (44:9-14).
I have heard from many folks who have said they would have loved to have taken part in Tuesday’ s service, but they didn’ t know about it. For that I apologize. We came up with the idea of the service Monday at our regular staff meeting and did not have the appropriate amount of time to alert the parish. But we trusted the Holy Spirit to move among us, and it did, because it all came together with such a beautiful, reverential spirit. And as the Spirit would have it there were a respectable number of you who made it here during the lunch hour. I am reminded of the story of a priest who, when asked, How many people were at the early celebration of the Eucharist last Wednesday morning?’ and he replied, There were three old ladies, the sexton, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several million of the triumphant saints of God.’ 1 Well, that’ s how the service felt to me.
And you know, it didn’ t feel like we were celebrating this feast day for our sakes for the purpose of making ourselves feel better or that we were trying to make a statement for the sake of making a statement. Not at all. We honored our loved ones, our military’ s dead and all the anonymous dead of the world for Christ who demands us to respond to his grace by living lives of thankful obedience in very ordinary acts of responsibility. Such a cloud of witnesses as we were answered a deep human urge to be part of something larger, to not stand alone, to give our little lives meaning. It has been said, one drop of water, left alone, evaporates quickly. But one drop of water in the immense sea endures.2
Frankly, there were moments when I did feel like we were reading names as one drop of water in the immense sea. Life in the city of Richmond raced by us with little regard. People in cars, students on bicycles, people coming and going with merely a passing glance. But there were a handful of people who did stop and listen and reflect on the droning of the names; a few even stayed until the final prayer and blessing. They said they were grateful for the recognition of our soldiers, for taking God’ s love and memoryof the dead to the streets, to the streets in their neighborhood.
This sentiment was never more apparent to me than when I walked down from the steps and onto the sidewalk to face the microphone and the thrown open doors of the church, and noticed behind the reader, who happened to be Lynne Washington, our Christ window aglow from the natural sunlight of this glorious fall day. It took my breath away. There I was looking down the aisle of sanctuary seeing Christ looking back at me holding the world in the palm of His hand. Here in the midst of the city of Richmond, Christ’ s presence was falling out onto the street. I found comfort knowing that our Lord had his arms open wide ready to receive the dead in love and would transform our feelings of sorrow and grief into peace.
1 Geddes MacGregor in The Rhythm of God
2 Quoted from Kathy Coffey’ s book God in the Moment.