Re-Membering

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Please, be seated.

Remember with me, will you?  If you are seated here in the nave of Marsh Chapel you may want to find a comfortable posture, if such is possible in wooden pews, and fold your hands in your lap and let your eyelids drift downward just a bit.  If, on the other hand, you are driving a motor vehicle on Interstate 90, I think it would be better for all concerned, and on Interstate 90 there will be many concerned, if you just kept your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes open!  Let us, together, then, as a congregation called into fellowship on this Memorial Day weekend, remember.

We remember one year ago on a sunny Memorial Day weekend walking over to Boston Common and seeing a sea of American flags that had been painstakingly pounded into the soft earth.  A bride and a groom were making final preparations for their nuptials.  Nails were polished, shoes were shined, suits were pressed, dresses were shaken out, hair was done up, and yes, small vials of bubbles were unpacked and laid out in baskets for guests to retrieve and blow after the ceremony.  On that sunny Sunday afternoon, the bride and her father made their way down the aisle, this aisle in fact, and she joined hands with her betrothed.  Declarations were made, readings were read, a sermon was preached, Bach was sung, vows were vowed, rings were exchanged, prayers were said, and the priest proclaimed, “You are husband and wife!”  Yes, one year ago today Holly and I got married right here at Marsh Chapel on the glorious Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  It has been a year of delight, of learning, and most of all, of loving.  Happy anniversary, love!

If only all of our memories of the past year could be such happy ones.  For us here at Boston University, there has been far too much tragedy.

We remember on a cool November evening when Chung-Wei Yang, known at the University as Victor, who had come to BU from Taiwan to study international relations, collided with a bus while riding his bicycle and was killed.  His family arrived in Boston and on a Saturday morning, again here in the nave of Marsh Chapel, hundreds of students, friends, family, and members of the Taiwanese community in Boston joined to remember and pray.  Again, readings were read, a sermon was preached, music was sung, prayers were said, memories were shared, and tears, oh so many tears, were shed.

Then, only a couple of weeks later, the phone rings: “I’m driving down Commonwealth Avenue.  There’s a body in the road.  It’s not another one of ours, is it?”  Christopher Weigl, a graduate student in photojournalism in the College of Communications collided with a tractor-trailer just in front of the CVS across from Student Health Services.  Again on a Sunday afternoon, students and family and friends gathered, this time in the nave of the First Congregational Church in Holliston, Massaschusetts, in whose fellowship Christopher grew up.  BU alumna and senior pastor of the church, Rev. Bonnie Steinroeder, who pastors three generations of the Weigl family, led another service of readings and prayers and memories and music and tears.

We made it through January and February unscathed, but then on the first Saturday of March, in the wee hours of the morning, Anthony Barksdale died after attending an un-registered, off-campus party.  He was a freshman engineering major from Amherst, New Hampshire.  Due to the cold and the rain, a vigil was held indoors in the George Sherman Union.  Students gathered in the Towers dormitory to share memories.  A memorial service was held in his high school.

April 15.  Tax Day!  Patriots’ Day.  Marathon Monday.  You remember, don’t you?  Just a little warmer than the runners may have wanted, but perfect for spectators who came out in droves to line the course, particularly the last few miles as the runners came down Beacon Street, through Kenmore Square, and then zigged and zagged over to Boylston Street to the finish line.  Some of us gathered in the Deanery, that is, the residence of the dean, for a brunch of eggs and fruit and Dunkin Donuts.  Dean Hill recited Longfellow and the Gettysburg Address, as he is wont to do sometimes.  Out we processed to Kenmore Square to watch the elite runners come through, thinking that we were only taking our lives in our hands by boarding the rickety elevator down to the ground from number 10.

How little did we know.  My wife and I walked from Kenmore Square back home and I lay down to take a nap.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I detest being rudely awoken from a sound sleep.  So it was that when Holly shook my shoulder and announced, “there are bombs at the marathon!” all I could think was, “That’s ridiculous.  Bombs don’t belong at marathons!”  I looked at my phone: missed calls, missed texts, missed email.  We called our parents.  “I have to get to the chapel,” I announced.  “How?”  Good question.  How do you get from Beacon Hill to Boston University without going anywhere near Copley Square?  Thank God for Hubway!  I grabbed a bike, carried it over to the Esplanade, and rode hard.

You know, when you stop a race before it is completed and throw the runners off the course, it gets a bit confusing.  Runners came over to Commonwealth Avenue from Beacon Street, many of them hoping to catch the T, only to find that the T was shut down.  What did they find?  A church!  Marsh Chapel.  In they came and hospitality we provided: water, food, blankets, phones, rides, directions, counsel, prayer, patience.  We planned a vigil for that evening.  News broke that there was an explosion at the JFK library.  We cancelled the vigil.  The vigil finally happened the following evening and hundreds gathered on Marsh Plaza in front of the chapel for readings, and prayers, and words of comfort and strength in times of trouble.  Another evening hence we gathered here in the nave for readings, prayers, sermon, song, hymns, and Eucharist as we continued the search for healing.

“Is there a student at Boston University named Lu Lingzi?” Dean Hill asked.  I typed her name into the computer.  “Yes.”  “Oh.”  Lingzi was no longer missing.  She was at the morgue.  One of the three killed by the bombings.  The media frenzy was intense as the news broke.  Over 400 students, most of them Chinese, gathered in the Burke Room at Agganis Arena to share memories and process together.  Her parents arrived from China and were greeted at the airport by the Ambassador from China and a delegation from Boston University.  1400 people, including many dignitaries, gathered in the George Sherman Union for Lingzi’s memorial service.  4000 watched a live stream over the Internet.  $560,000 was gathered in the course of a morning by the Trustees of Boston University to begin a scholarship fund in her memory.  Her father gave a poignant and moving eulogy.  Her mother was inconsolable.  More readings, more prayers, more music, more memories, more tears.

The phone rang.  “Br. Larry, I know it’s Sunday morning and you have services, but there has been a fire, and a student has died, and several are in the hospital.  Can you go to the hospital?”  More death.  More trauma.  Binland Lee was a senior in the Marine Science program at the College of Arts and Sciences.  This time, students traveled down to Brooklyn, New York for a Chinese Buddhist wake and memorial service in an Italian Catholic funeral home.  More readings, more prayers, more music, more memories, more tears.

Remembering a wedding is wonderful.  The heart soars as the feelings of love and joy and belonging together, so intensely felt on that day, return to the forefront of the mind’s eye.  Remembering death and violence and vigils and funerals is hard.  It is painful.  It is rubbing salt in a wound of the spirit.  Each one of those American flags pounded into the common might as well have been pounded into the flesh of those who loved the one whom the flag represents.

Remembering a dead loved one is painful precisely because we know that the person cannot be re-membered.  It is not possible that grandma or grandpa or mom or dad or brother or sister or, God have mercy, son or daughter should be re-membered, brought into membership again, in the family.  It is not possible that friend or neighbor or colleague or teammate or pew-fellow should be re-membered, brought back into the fellowship of the community.  Our grief and our pain as we remember those we have loved who have died arises from the helplessness we feel and the loss of control we experience when we recognize that there is nothing we can do to re-member them.

There are bombing victims in Boston who are struggling to re-member themselves right now.  Some lost arms and legs in the blasts of the bombs and they grieve the loss of their limbs as they remember what life was like before.  Thankfully, many of those who lost limbs will be able to re-member not their own arms and hands or legs and feet but prosthetic limbs that will empower them to reclaim at least a portion of the life they had before.  Nevertheless, the sense of helplessness and the terror of being out of control without the ability to walk or the ability to pick up a fork is something that will haunt many for the rest of their lives.

So too, there are those who lined Boylston Street on April 15, and especially many who worked in the medical tents, and many of us who perhaps were not there and yet somehow feel that this happened to us.  We too struggle to re-member.  We remember what we heard: explosions, screams, cries.  We remember what we saw: fire, broken glass, blood.  We remember the smell of smoke, the taste of bile, the touch of those jostling to get to the wounded or away from the area.  Holding together the pieces of the mind is a struggle to re-member in a spirit of hope what we remember of a time of terror.

Why do we remember?  Why bother to become involved in the work of memory with its attendant pain and grief?  Why not just forget?

We remember because we have hope that we ourselves will be re-membered.  Today is Trinity Sunday, and in the life of Christianity this is the day we remember that God in Godself is a community of members.  One of those members became incarnate in Jesus Christ and was thus, for a time, dismembered from God.  Today, on Memorial Day weekend and Trinity Sunday, readings and prayers and sermon and song teach us that God knows the pain of dismemberment as God experienced the pain of the passion.  And yet, God also knows the healing and joy of re-membering in the glory of the resurrection.  The Holy Spirit of God testifies today that it is not the passion of Christ that defines the Person of Christ, but the Person that defines the passion; that it is not suffering that bears meaning, but a sense of meaning that bears up under suffering; that it is not the cross that carries the love but the love that carries the cross; that it is not crucifixion that encompasses salvation, but salvation that encompasses even the tragedy of crucifixion.  In the life of faith the work of memory is part and parcel of the work God does in us, in the example of Christ and in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, that we may withstand what we cannot understand.

So far, so good, but we cannot stop there.  The testimony of the church on Trinity Sunday is that the love of God, and the grace of God, and the forgiveness of God, and the healing of God, and the redemption of God that re-members us into relationship and partnership and family and community and society and world belongs not to us but to God who extends the partnership of Gospel to the ends of the earth, to all peoples and all times and all places, and not only to people but to the whole of creation.  It is out of this belief that Howard Thurman said that “people, all people, belong to one another, and those who shut themselves away diminish themselves, and those who shut another away destroy themselves.”  Just this week Pope Francis said in a weekday Mass sermon that, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this [one] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”  You see, by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  The hard work of remembering prevents us from shutting ourselves away and from shutting others away that we may all be re-membered together.  It is in the work of remembering that the Spirit draws us in her tether that we might touch the garment hem of God and be healed and re-membered.

It would probably be wise for me to stop there, but the wisdom of faith is foolishness to the wise and on Trinity Sunday, when I remember my ordination to the priesthood four years ago, we are reminded that we are called to be fools for Christ.  For you see, if we believe with Howard Thurman that all people belong to one another, and if we believe with Pope Francis that God has redeemed all of us, then it cannot be the case that we are re-membered, returned to fellowship, having left anyone or anything behind.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the driver of the bus that collided with Victor.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the driver of the tractor-trailer that killed Christopher.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with the students who threw the party that Anthony attended.  We cannot be re-membered without being re-membered with those responsible for the conditions that led to the fire that killed Binland.  And dear friends in Boston, we cannot be re-membered as a city and as a community and as a society until we are re-membered with Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev.  All people belong to one another, not merely the ones we love or who love us.  It was a sinful, sinful thing to attempt to deny Tamerlan the small dignity of burial, and we must all repent, for until we can confess that we belong to Tamerlan and Dzokhar, and they to us, we cannot be re-membered, and our search for healing continues.

Lingzi’s parents buried her here in Boston.  They did so because they believe that her spirit will help to bring peace to our community.  She will certainly abide here in our memory, and in remembering all of those we have lost, may we be re-membered, returned to fellowship, with one another, with all people, with all creation, and ultimately, with God, whose re-memberment we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.  Amen.

 

~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+

University Chaplain for Community Life

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