Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Remembrance Day

Today was both Veterans Day and a Sunday, and thus the observance of this major national holiday fell on the actual day.

Most history buffs know that the holiday dates to the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, marking the end of the Great War. In the U.S., holiday was known as Armistice Day beginning in 1926, but was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

In the U.K., it’s always been Remembrance Day, and poppies are worn to commemorate the horrible deaths of trench warfare in the fields of Flanders. I first heard the term back in 1976, in a passing reference made by Alastair Ian Stewart in his offbeat love song, "Sand in Your Shoes." (Most boomers only remember the title track, “Year of the Cat”).

I did not know until this morning that Remembrance Day is also the official name in Canada, but Canadian comic strip artist Lynn Johnston this morning published a poignant tribute to one of the main characters, 86-year-old WW II vet Jim Richards, father of the cartoonist’s alter ego (Elly Patterson).
In observance of the date, the closing hymn today was Hymn 512 in the 1940 Hymnal. (The Navy hymn without the Army/Air Force references of Hymn 513). It was a bittersweet choice — the hymn is a favorite of mine, but for some reason opening the page to the hymn brought a tear, because of the reminder of my father (a World War II vet at whose funeral we sang Hymn 513). I lost it twice briefly while singing the hymn, although it appears nobody noticed.

However, after the service the choice became a bittersweet one for the entire congregation, as our rector announced he was resigning in the next month to become a Navy chaplain. I admire him greatly for making this difficult choice, and respect him (like all other military personnel) for making the sacrifice most of us are unwilling to make. But we now are left hoping to find a strong spiritual and pastoral leader, which is not a situation any parish wants to be in.

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