Military Honors is the service many of us have experienced at a funeral of a veteran just before the internment. There is a 21-gun salute by a group of seven, usually older men firing blanks. A trumpet, hidden in the distance, plays “Taps.” Two, usually active duty persons, conduct a flag folding ceremony. At the end the flag is presented to a member of the family. I felt odd about calling EP public safety to find out if we could do the entire service. The dispatcher had to check with two sergeants and then a lieutenant before he was able to say yes.
There was a time in my life when as a pastor I cringed at the thought of military honors on the church lawn. I have always honored the intention of military honors, but at some point I believed there should be a distinction between what is of our faith community and what is of our culture. I realize this is a line that many of us do not ever consider, but well I did… and I do.
On Tuesday this service was something so beautiful, that I want to share it with you as an important memory of our congregation. For me it’s also a lesson in how when we stick to lines of even the best intentions, we miss out sharing in the great beauty of our human diversity.
The sanctuary was almost full, a testament to any 91-year-old. There were the familiar comforting prayers, wonderful music, and a beautiful solo. In my meditation I was moved to share how it was that Bud’s military experience at such a young age shaped and formed his life. And that Bud was able to turn this traumatic experience for good in his life. I said, “Bud was not quiet about his experience, and this enabled him to touch the lives of those who needed to know they were not alone.”
Perhaps we were being prepared for what happened next. I had given the instructions that following the service we were to move to the sidewalk outside our front door. The honor guard would be lined up on the grass…with their guns pointed at Bud and Dorothy’s house in case they hit something. It was a beautiful day, and as people lined up on the sidewalk they also began to creep up that small hill. As I stood at the other far end of the human semicircle, there were people in all sorts of colors, the grass was so green and trimmed, the sky so blue and beautiful.
Dorothy was escorted on the arm of her grand-son-in-law who is an active duty Lt. Colonel. He was at least 6’6”in full dress uniform standing there at attention by her side; it was as if he was calling all of us to want to do the same. The salute was fired. And then those familiar first notes of “Taps” seem to come from nowhere. When I looked up, trying to find the source of the trumpet, I immediately saw the player. He was standing across the street on Bud’s front porch underneath the flag at his house, which was flying at half-mast. As the flag was presented to Dorothy, I don’t think anyone moved… I’m not sure any of us even breathed…. it was so moving, so stirring, so beautiful.
We can debate all day long about firing the guns of an honor guard on our church lawn, even if they are blanks. I get both sides. For what it is worth, I’m willing to live with the thought that on Tuesday, it was not only the honorable but perhaps also the faithful thing to do.
Keep the Faith,