“Sacred Sites”

Moss Side Cemetery ~ Cumberland Center, Maine . . . Dropping Sue off at work last Thursday morning, I headed north to attend Anne’s funeral (see the previous posting).  Before the service I had a few minutes with Anne’s husband Roland and their children, Alyssa and Adam.  It was an opportune time to talk with them about their mom and to put in their hands some photos and a letter Anne had written describing her children and the delight she took in them as God’s gifts to her.  Some two dozen family members and friends circled graveside to say farewell to Anne – wife, mother, friend and child of God.  We celebrated the strength of her faith in Christ and gave thanks for her years of providing exemplary leadership for the church’s VBS ministry and . . . overseeing the church’s library.  Her pastor exercised a good ministry which included the reminder that the plot of ground on which we stood had now become a “sacred site”– a sacred site, yes, but temporary.  Resurrection day is coming!               

9/11 Memorial ~ World Trade Center, New York City . . . On Friday it was time to turn south to connect with my brother Darryl (yes, that one) and sister-in-law Luci in Manhattan to visit the 9/11 Memorial.  After lunch within the developing new World Trade Center complex we obtained passes for a late afternoon tour of the National September 11 Memorial.  Clearing airport level screening (minus shoe removal) and several additional check points, we entered the 8 acre area set aside to memorialize the thousands of men, women, and children from 90 nations who perished in the terrorist attacks of February 26, 1993 and 9/11. 

The sights, sounds, and smells of my first visit to “Ground Zero” in the third week following September 11 are forever engraved in my mind.  The “pile” was still belching smoke from down deep in the belly of the destruction.  Red hot I-beams were still being surgically extracted like so many pick-up sticks.  Walking the perimeter of the 16 acres during my tour of duty, my senses tried to absorb a surrealistic scene – NYPD officers and National Guard troops armed with assault weapons standing on watch, light towers illuminating the devastation, construction workers operating giant cranes and trucks, FDNY personnel and tech rescue teams searching the pile and . . . the tented morgue with its stainless steel tables receiving remains of the dead.  Now within the towering shadow of the new WTC 1, all those images and more flooded back as we stood on this “sacred site” – burial ground for those bodies never recovered.   

Among the 2,983 names stencil cut into the bronze parapets surrounding the North and South Pools are those of Ralph Francis Kershaw and Mychal F. Judge.  Ralph, a well-known citizen of our community, was aboard the ill-fated United 175 which flew into the South Tower.  I  knew Ralph from bruising battles with him on the basketball court.  Mychal Judge, FDNY Chaplain, was the first certified casualty of that horrific day.  There are just not enough words . . .               

Slate Hill Cemetery ~ Camp Hill, Pennsylvania . . . Early on Sunday morning I drove from Darryl and Luci’s home in Sinking Spring, PA out to Camp Hill to join in worship with the congregation of Slate Hill Mennonite Church.  Lynn Shertzer, who did mentored ministry with me, is now in his 11th year as pastor.  What fun it was to see him and Dawn along with their children, Isaac, Liz and Noah, in their surroundings.  And I was well nourished, first by Lynn’s great message on a challenging text (I Peter 3:1-7), and then with Dawn’s delicious roast beef dinner.  Table talk consumed two hours plus as we caught up on family and church life.  I plied them with questions about their worship, congregational dynamics, new facility and ministries. 

One might think it an unusual ministry as listed and described on the Slate Hill Mennonite Church website – Slate Hill Cemetery.  In actuality, it’s not all that uncommon.  But think of it.  The bodies of saints who in time had worshiped, prayed, served, eaten, laughed and wept together have been laid to rest to await “That Great Gettin’ Up Morning.”  This dormitory of the dead is open to receive, not only members of the church, but also those of the community at large.  It is a “sacred site” which serves as a silent reminder to all who gather graveside to lay loved ones to rest, that this life is prelude to the next.

 “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – Jesus   [John 5:28-29 ESV]