Upham's Corner Online

Memorial Day - Not a Celebration of War

Posted: May 31 2011     Rev. John Odams, Pilgrim Church

Memorial Day
On Sunday, May 29, 2011 Pilgrim Church remembered events from the church's past that gave context to an understanding of Memorial Day. 

Memorial Day is not a celebration of war.  It is a time to remember and a time to heal.  Experiencing the pain of loss, we forget that we, too, will join the ranks of those who have gone to the other side. 

Looking to those who have gone before us is looking to our place of origin.  We are a continuation of the past, not just the next volume.  Healing comes out of remembering the past.

Formation
On the day of the church's formation in November 1862, the scripture chosen was the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8.  The text symbolizes and emphasizes the importance of "going beyond the boundaries." 

Boundaries create division and ask people to take sides. The Civil War, already in its second year, had divided the nation and condemned thousands of soldiers to death.  Today, as a people, as a nation, we must look past our differences and join together to celebrate our common humanity.

The Ark
Originally renting space near Pleasant and East Cottage Streets, the church moved to a building on Stoughton Street in 1877 close to where the Dublin House is now.  Rev. William Harvey Albright was the pastor there from 1890 to 1907.  At his induction in 1890, he remarked: "It is as if an industrious Yankee found Noah's Ark and put it in the middle of Upham's Corner."  He was likely referring to the building used for worship, looking oddly like the hulk of a ship. 

The responsibilities God gave to Noah are not unlike those accepted by military personnel.  Indeed, whatever our roles in life, we each take on the cloak of protecting ourselves and our loved ones and we promise to be good stewards of our earth.  Each of us is set in a life context where we have more in common than what separates us. 

"We are all in this boat together." The ark represents safety and refuge.   It represents a future even in the darkest storms.  In service our military personnel have worked to guaranty our country's safety and security.  Non-military personnel participate in the support system that maintains a fragile peace.  When even the least of these has fallen in the line of duty, through war or illness, accident or age, the role of the ark passes back to us to watch over them and to remember.

Ruth & Naomi
The third Scripture, from the book of Ruth, is the theme of the window in the chapel, a window that was donated by the Rev. Dr. Hallowell from North Hamptonshire, England in 1890.

Ruth 1:16-17

But Ruth said, 'Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!  Where you go, I will go;   where you lodge, I will lodge;  your people shall be my people,  and your God my God.   Where you die, I will die - there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me,  and more as well, if even death parts me from you!'

Ruth provides a model of strength and helps us deal with the burdens of pain and sorrow.  To the memories of those who have passed before us, we say: "Do not press me to leave you."   We remember our loved ones on this Memorial Day as we stand in strength in the ark of life sharing our common humanity. 

Memorial DayYesterday, Memorial Day itself, I wandered through a few actve cemetaries.  All around were symbols of what we have come to think of as honoring the dead.
  • Small American flags
  • Plastic flowers
  • Real flowers in plastic pots
  • Banners
  • Solar operated lights
  • Christmas trees
People had placed them on the graves of their loved ones:  freinds, siblings, parents, grandparents, as a way of reaching out, a way of communicating and comforting themselves.

It struck me how many of these "trinkets" had left messages of longing, loss and incompleteness, and I was reminded that until we admit our brokenness, we can never be healed.

- Rev. John Odams

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