I have presided over a funeral with military involvement before, but the one this morning was different. Maybe because it was so big, maybe because I knew the honoree so much better, maybe because it was on my home turf. In any case I was reminded how really beautiful the "liturgy" of the military can be.
The whole things started with an unexpected fly-by in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Three huge jets came screaming down low over our church yard. (We learned later that the unannounced nature of it terrified the occupants of the nearby office towers.) But it set the tone for the rest of the service. Not in grandeur or terror, but in importance. This time and space was set aside for something of utmost importance. After the Word, Eucharist, Commendation and Committal, the Marine Corps Honor Guard presented the Colors to the honoree's grandson. It was simple, clean and very moving.
Throughout the service, I was struck by both the contrast and similarity of our purposes and presentation.
This funeral had nine clergy vested and processing. It also had a multitude of military personnel: a bagpipe, trumpeter, honor guard, arms presentation, family escort.
I was moved by the beautiful balance of fluidity and rigidity that the military contingent struck as they moved through their paces. Not a movement was wasted, there was nothing extemporaneous or loose. This had been done thousands of times.
But so had our part, and for hundreds of years. Our movements are not perfect, but they were smooth. Our words are full of comfort and a message of grace. I think the liturgy of military honors speaks volumes about a person's dedicated service to those things which are important here on earth: honor, pride, protection, duty. But for my part, I believe immeasurably in the Christian burial (especially the Episcopal one!) and what it says about life eternal, and about those things which are important to God: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness.
We are people in the world for a time, so it makes perfect sense to honor those things that we held dear by those who held us dear. Bill deserved every inch of those military honors and then some. They were beautifully executed and appropriately offered. I appreciate that such as this is available to God's beloved who spend their lives in so great a calling. But I am even more grateful that our burial liturgy is available to anyone and everyone who live on this earth at all, reminding us that we are all called into greatness, whether in this life or the next.