Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Remembering Frank Buckles, Our Last WWI Vet

In my Junior year of Seminary, I took a course on the Book of Revelation.  One assignment was to write a sermon using a text from Revelation.  I decided to write an imaginary memorial sermon for Frank Buckles, our last WWI vet.  Frank Buckles entered into eternal joy last month at the age of 110.  He will be interred in Arlington this afternoon.  Please take a moment to remember Frank Buckles and all those who served our country faithfully.

Here is the assignment I completed a few years ago (while I'm tempted to edit it a bit, I left it as is):

We are here today to honor the life of Frank Woodruff Buckles[1].  Frank has had a very full life so far and no one can say he has not done great things with his life.  Frank was born Feb. 1, 1901 when McKinley was president, and Frank has seen 19 presidents in office so far.  Frank has raised a wonderful daughter Susannah.  Frank has been a farmer here in Jefferson Country for many years.  He has been involved with ecological efforts to keep the air clean by planting trees.  Frank has done so much with his life, but what Frank will be most widely remembered for is being the last American WWI veteran.  Today is a momentous day as it marks the passing of an American generation, the generation of American WWI veterans.  Frank marks the end of an era for America.

You have read the newspaper articles about Frank.  You know Frank, but it is fitting to remember what he will always be remembered for.  Frank felt compelled to answer the call to serve his country when America became involved in WWI.  He lied about his age in order to join the other troops training and shipping overseas.  Being young and wanting to be where the action was, Frank was in a hurry to get to France.  He wanted to get to the action, to be able to do something, to have a part in the Great War.  Upon hearing that the ambulance service would get him over there quicker, he became a driver and crossed the English Channel.  While he did not fight in the trenches, Frank saw so much pain and suffering as he removed the casualties from the trenches and drove them to medical treatment

The reading from Revelation speaks to us today in a powerful way.  Its imagery, language and vision provide a rich and very fitting text for us today as we remember Frank and his life’s experiences. 

The text talks about people coming through the 'great ordeal'[2] and taking their places in the heavenly courtroom.  One cannot hear that phrase without thinking of the name of WWI.  It was the Great War, the War to end all Wars.  Sadly, that was not the case with WWI.  In fact, Frank has lived to see America involved in five wars with the 5th still in progress.  Frank will eventually be in a place where he no longer will have to experience wars.  Frank will go through his last ordeal as he passes from the earthly plain.

We are told that God will wipe away all their tears, all the ones who have passed through the ‘great ordeal’ will have their tears wiped away.  For Frank, this was not merely just WWI, because he saw and experienced many painful experiences while abroad.  He traveled all over the world working for White Star and other merchant seamen companies.  While working in the Philippines he was taken as a POW when the Japanese attacked.  He spent over 3 years in the infamous Los BaƱos camp.  Instead of losing heart, he strove to keep his fellow POWS physically fit by leading them in daily calisthenics and even developed a close relationship with a polio stricken girl.  From that experience, he kept his tin cup, the tin cup he ate his meager food out of.  The food was not enough to fully sustain him and he was a gaunt 100 lbs when the camp was liberated.  The cup has served as a reminder of his time there, a time when he was hungry, but still able to find strength.  The cup serves as a reminder of the day when Frank would hunger and thirst no more.  A day when the Lamb would be his shepherd leading him to the springs of the water of life just as we listen to what Revelation is saying to us today[3].

The text from Revelation is not meant to be escapist by any means.  It provides a comforting vision of how God will care for us.  It reminds us that we are all saved because we as Christians have all been sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever through our baptisms.

The hope and comfort of Rev. 7 is that the saints who have gone through the great ordeal are now in a place where there are no tears anymore.  The Lamb has conquered all through its death and Jesus has taken away the sting of death, the tears will be wiped away.

We cannot honor Frank today without mentioning his fellow comrades who went before him.  These comrades he served with, served next to, and served.  The comrades on the other sides of the trench.  The comrades he got to know as he escorted the POWs back to Germany.  The comrades he shared his life with in the POW camp.  What we do know is that Frank will finally be joining the rest of his comrades.  Frank desires so much to join his comrades in Arlington.  Being the last American WWI veteran, he has been given special permission to join them.  After petitioning to be buried with his comrades, Frank will be able to join them.  It means so much to him to be able to join them there.

One by one over the years, more WWI veterans have left the Earthly plain.  The vision Revelation provides of being welcomed by other saints and given a white robe is a wonderful image for us to reflect on.  As with any war, civilians cannot fully understand the magnitude of the experience.  They did not see the dead strewn across the battles fields or had to fall asleep in the trenches to the sounds of mortar and gunshots.  They did not see the victims of the Mustard gas that was used during WWI.  We can only imagine the tears caused by the noxious gases and their tear strewn faces.  Yet, we are given an image of the heavenly courtroom in Revelation and we are told that their tears will be wiped away.  The tears are but transitory.  Once they are wiped away, they will be gone forever. 

Frank’s spirit will no longer be with us.  He will be joining his comrades who are also buried in Arlington Cemetery and receive the distinctive white gravestone marking his service to America.  John visions the saints getting a white robe in heaven, and Frank will have an image of one here on Earth, as his white gravestone will remind us, because it is white because of the blood, tears, and sweat he shed as a soldier in the fields of France.  His physical body will rest here, but as Revelation reminds us, he will be joining the rest of those ‘who have come out of the great ordeal’.

Frank as an ambulance driver saw so many young men with wounds and in so much pain, and their faces marked with tears.  Many of those men did not make it back home.  Frank will now be able to join them in a place where there are no more tears.  They have been wiped away because they have come through the great ordeal.

The power of Revelation is that is reminds us that no matter what pain and suffering we have experienced in our earthly life, it is not the ultimate end.  Revelation presents an image of what God’s future church is to be like.

So from today on we can remember Frank fondly.  We can remind each other of the wonderful things he was able to accomplish despite the great ordeals he endured that could have easily broken a man.  He came back from the Philippines, met his wife, started a family, and has been able to live a rich life filled with his families and friends besides him.

While our tears flow today as we remember Frank, we know that God will wipe them away.  Just as Frank will be in a place with no tears, we too one day when our Earthly journey has run its course, will be in a place with no tears.

[1] Frank Buckles is still alive, and because of this, I will refer to him in the present and his burial in the future throughout the sermon.  He is a member of my home parish and my father went to school with his daughter.  In writing a funeral sermon, I choose to write it with using a specific person in mind.  This text fits very well with a person who served in WWI and was a civilian POW during WWII.  This sermon is to honor Mr. Buckle’s life and would be what I would imagine to preach at the memorial of his earthly life.  This sermon is meant to be preached at the church service before the gravesite service at Arlington National Cemetery.
[2] NRS translates ‘great ordeal,’ which picks up on the name of WWI being the Great War better than the NAS and KJV which call it the ‘great tribulation’
[3] This phrase intentionally used to highlight the earlier portions of Revelation, which say ‘listen to what the spirit is saying to the Churches’.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Welcome Home, PJ

It is amazing how much a pet can bring joy to your life.

My husband and I now have a dog.  I have been wanting to get one since we got married and moved into our apartment, but I knew it would take some time for us to get settled before we would really be ready to care for one.  We talked a little over a month ago and decided the time was now right.  Growing up, my family always had corgis.  My mom did thorough research about what kind of breed would be good for a special needs child.  Corgis won, and I have been hooked ever since.  My husband acquiesced to my love of corgis, and through some searching and my parents contacting a breeder where we got a previous dog at, we found PJ.  He had been a show dog who didn't have the pizazz to win many shows, so they decided to sell him to an elderly couple.  In the Fall, they determined  that they weren't able to care for him anymore.  The breeders got him back in November and were waiting for the right family to give him a new home. 

Friday night my husband and I went to Petsmart to get all the things we didn't have to prepare our apartment for PJ.  It didn't feel real while we were picking out toys and food.  When we got the id tag made with PJ's name, our name, and phone numbers, it sunk in that we would be welcoming PJ into our hearts and homes for real.  Once we got home, I cleaned and set up his food and water bowls.  I figured out how to use the car harness and was all ready for the next morning when I would go pick him up from the breeder.

PJ has been settling in well.  He is a quiet and laid back dog.  He likes to sleep at my feet and join my husband and I on the couch when we watch TV.  Last night he was in my lap and fell asleep.  I thought that this is exactly how I would like to most evenings...curled up on the couch with my husband and dog.

I look forward to all the joy PJ will bring to my heart and home and the many adventures we will share.  Also, I hope PJ loves us as much as we love him!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Invitation to a Holy Lent

Ash Wednesday went well at the hospital.  The service was pretty well attended.  I recognized a CNA, a Doctor, a Volunteer, and a Case Manager, in addition to other hospital staff and some family members.  I was glad to have such a good cross section of those who are in the hospital throughout the day.  I also got to distribute ashes to various patients and staff throughout the afternoon.

I have two favorite imposition-of-ashes moments.  The first was a lady whose water broke in the morning and came to the hospital.  She commented to the nurse after arriving that she wasn't able to get ashes now.  The unit Chaplain heard about it and let me know so I could make sure both her and her husband got ashes.  I can imagine the child growing up and hearing about how he prevented his mom from going to church on Ash Wednesday, but she was able to get ashes in the hospital before he was born.  The second was a lady whose nurse let me know she might want them after the nurse herself got ashes.  I went in and saw the patient, who said she would love to have them.  She told me that husband came in to see her earlier with his own ashes, and that she had tried to rub some of them off his head to put on hers.  I was glad to be able to give her her own set of ashes, even though it was a touching image to imagine her sharing ashes with her husband of many years.

It was a blessed and holy day for me yesterday.  I was touched by those who sought me out to receive their reminders of dust.  It will be an Ash Wednesday to remember.

After my husband finished with his evening service, we met downtown to break our fast together at a restaurant.  As we sat there waiting for our food to arrive, I smiled thinking that this is exactly how I want to end each Ash Wednesday -- sharing a meal with my husband and reflecting on how God touched us throughout the day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Preparation

It is now Ash Wednesday and I have been preparing to lead the Ash Wednesday service at the Hospital.  I am excited to be leading the service.  I have assisted with Ash Wednesday services before, but this will be my first time leading one.  The service will be about 20 minutes, and then I will be sitting in the chapel for an hour after that so nurses can pop in and out as they are able to receive ashes.  Ash Wednesday has always been a special day for me, and I am curious to see how being and serving at the hospital today might be different.

Being a good J personality, I bought ashes last month to ensure we would have them.  I would like to actually burn and make my own ashes one year, but that will have to wait.  I mixed the ashes with some oil yesterday so the overnight chaplain would have them if anyone called for them early in the morning.  I printed out the prayer and words of imposition on a notecard.  I also put a couple wet papertowels in a sealed plastic bag, so impositioners would have a quick and easy way to clean thumbs between rooms and floors of the hospital.

I am curious to see how many staff, particularly the day shift nurses who work 7a-7p, will come to receive ashes since they will likely miss any church services.  I know the Catholic priests will be stopping by a couple times during the day to see their flocks.  Anyone who wants ashes in the hospital will be getting them, and I am glad to be the one organizing and making sure this happens.

The two other people in the department that have been raised in liturgical traditions are assisting me with the service.  Another member of the department said to me yesterday: "You know I don't know what you are talking about at all."  Holy Days like this are times when I am glad I am from a tradition that has the rites and rituals to strengthen and reinforce the Gospel messages and my own spiritual disciplines.

Have a Prayerful Ash Wednesday everyone!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Holy hands

Do hands matter when you receive communion?

I was serving at my husband's church yesterday while he was leading a college mission trip.
Met a new lady yesterday who told me before the service not to be offended because she only took communion from men. I told her I was celebrating if that mattered. She said it didn't.

So if it is the exact same communion, then what significance do the hands that distribute it have?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Back to Blogging

Just got back from the RevGalBlogPals Big Event 4.0.  I have been inspired, nudged, and encouraged to blog.  I had a blog in the past and I didn't have the energy/follow through to keep it going at that point.  I am hoping that will be different this time around.  So...here we go!

A little bit about myself...I'm a Chaplain, Priest, Clergy Spouse, Sibling and Advocate of someone with Special Needs.