Faith Works 5-24-14
To place a memorial
In the hymn "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," there's a line that gets fixed in some newer hymnals.
The original words by Robert Robinson in 1758 included, in the second verse, "Here I raise my Ebenezer…"
Sometimes spelled out Eben-Ezer, the word – actually a phrase – in Hebrew means "stone of help." We hear of it in the Bible in I Samuel, where in the seventh chapter a memorial is set to help the people remember a victory in battle and the price paid to recover the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines.
Samuel wants the people to remember what God has done for them, and so he sets a stone upright, and gives the place a name. An Eben-ezer.
There was a precedent for this just after the people of Israel entered the promised land across the Jordan River, after the passing of Moses on Mount Nebo and under the leadership of Joshua. At a place called Gilgal, Joshua orders that from where the nation crossed the river, twelve stones for the twelve tribes be taken out of the river bed, and set up on the high ground beyond the crossing – a memorial place. A tool for remembering.
The line in the hymn gets changed both because we don't know the narrative of the Bible so well any more, even in church, and because people blink and look puzzled and ask what this song has to do with Scrooge (who probably knew where his first name came from, even if it was an archaic Puritan usage even in 1830s London). But the idea remains, and in truth is too common for us to think of as unusual.
Monday is Memorial Day. Many of us will go to places set apart, where stones have been carved and set up and blessed by prayer and processions. I will be offering up an invocation and benediction in the morning at Granville's Memorial Day observances, which have been held consistently since 1868 . . . which in this part of the world is a long time to persist in remembrance.
Maple Grove Cemetery began with Civil War committals as the historic Old Colony Burying Ground, started in 1805, was filling up. Some wander after the Memorial Day program, with bands playing and young people reciting "In Flanders Fields" and "The Gettysburg Address," just a few blocks west to the older, even quieter place of memorial and memory.
All over Licking County, veteran's honor guards and buglers will work to cover all the active cemeteries they can, even if it's no more than to fire a salute, play "Taps," and say a prayer. It is how we remember, in between the picnics and the parties which are also a part of the commemoration. Perhaps not all who attend them stop as long as some would like to remember the sacrifices made on battlefields and in encampments far from home, but I think it's also worth noting that for those who serve and they who "gave the last full measure of devotion," their desire was that their family and friends and descendants would someday be able to get back to joyful picnics and quiet evenings watching birds sing.
The hazard, of course, is that if they died so that we could return to everyday life unafraid and undisturbed, then in the pleasures of the everyday we may forget how we got back here. Which is where Eben-Ezers come in, or memorial stones, or well-cared for cemeteries, or parades of Scouts carrying the Flag and musicians in step playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
That's what Joshua and Samuel and Lincoln and Mrs. Julia Pierpont had in mind, when they gave us Gilgal and Eben-Ezer and Gettysburg National Cemetery and a May observance at Richmond, Virginia's Hollywood Cemetery in 1866. That's why one of the young people at Maple Grove will read Gen. John A. Logan's "General Order Number 11" of 1868, which established a date at the end of May "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country."
We will celebrate, we will enjoy this weekend, but we will also remember. It requires some helps, some assists, some stones and markers, traditions and rituals. And we remember better together, so we will gather.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you remember what should not be forgotten at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.