When I heard that Congressman John Lewis of Georgia would be one of the guest speakers, I decided to go to the funeral service for Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who died a week ago at age 88. John Lewis is an American hero from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and was elected to serve in the house of representatives the same year Louise Slaughter was. Having lived in Louise’s district (everyone called her Louise) for just four years, I didn’t know just how distinguished her congressional career was. But I knew about John Lewis and even if he only spoke five minutes, I considered it an honor to see and hear him in person.
The service was in the Kodak Hall of Eastman School of Music in downtown Rochester, where we go to wonderful concerts. About 2300 people were present. They included a former president of the United States, a former secretary of state, a former speaker of the house of representatives, two busloads of representatives from congress, some senators, and many statewide political leaders. It is not often that one is in a room, albeit a very large one, with such an array of people in high levels of governmental service.
While I had read the obituaries about Louise’s career, it was another matter to hear from national leaders and her own children and grandchildren about her. She really was a coal miner’s daughter, from Harlan County, Kentucky. She was the first woman from her family to go to college (her father made sure that all his children did). She graduated with a degree in microbiology. She and her husband eventually moved to the greater Rochester area and in 1986, with the odds stacked against her, she ran for congress and won. She served in that seat until her death.
The service started with us singing “Blessed Assurance,” and ended with us singing “I’ll Fly Away.” A favorite poem of hers from Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up her legacy:
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
March for Our Lives
Last Saturday over 800 marches for our lives occurred in every one of our 50 states and in cities around the world. I went to the rally and march in Rochester NY. Alongside me were my older daughter and first son-by-marriage—and about 5,000 others of all generations and races. The rally featured mainly young speakers that have experienced the loss of siblings to gun violence. And the mother of a young man shot to death outside the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester a few years ago. The lead organizer was an 18-year-old high school senior. I take hope.
Several hundred miles south of us my older daughter and some of her friends went to the great march and rally in Washington, DC. I watched much of that rally on TV and was moved, at times to tears, by these young people wanting to make our nation safer and saner, better and brighter. These young people are giving me a huge boost of hope in these too violent times in our country and our world.
I wonder if any members of congress watched this stirring event. I am pretty sure the president didn’t, as he was golfing in Palm Beach, Florida. If our national leaders weren’t watching and listening, they missed profound moments of grief for those killed by gun violence and equally profound visions for what our nation can be. I know the political journey to a better day will be long and met by much opposition, but I believe a better day is coming. It may take more than one election cycle. The great movements for human rights rarely move smoothly or swiftly. But they ever move us into a brighter day.
Starting last Wednesday afternoon, I saw four performances of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the musical based on the Victor Hugo novel, at Gates-Chili High School. Why four times? My grandson played the hunchback, with excellence. Notable on this weekend, the story deals with how the Church and government, brought together in Claude Frollo (brilliantly played by our friend Jordan Klotz), looked down at the outcasts of Paris; the gypsies and the physically challenged. In my mind those gypsies and outcasts in 19th century Paris represent the millions of immigrants and refugees of our world today, yearning to be free and live in peace. Several of the songs are haunting in their evocative power: Esmeralda the gypsy praying, “God, Help the Outcasts,” and Quasimodo seeing “Heaven’s Light” in the midst of the spiritual darkness.
Not lost in all this drama was that Sunday of amazing drama, when Jesus rode a young donkey into Jerusalem. I love preaching on Palm Sunday, but I didn’t get to yesterday. Not exactly, anyway. I taught a wonderful group of adults for a full hour about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and what it meant then and means for us now. Fair to say, in that hour of teaching I also did some preaching. Such a day, such a narrative, demands proclamation.
I write this on Monday of Holy Week. This is the most liturgically significant and powerful week of the entire year. Confession: I miss being a pastor at Brunswick Church this week more than any other. Some years we had 12-13 worship services in the eight days from Palms to resurrection. Was I tired after the final Easter service? Yes, but good tired. It was deeply satisfying to walk through that week in something of its fullness, with Jesus and many of his disciples.
This week will be full for me. I will preach on Tuesday morning at the Community of the Savior’s monthly service for members of the Rochester Psychiatric Center. That is always an honor for me (I get to do it a number of times during the year). Tomorrow I will remind them of the meaning of that dramatic entrance into Jerusalem we marked yesterday. Community of the Savior has evening services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday’s Great Easter vigil (I will be at all three, including foot washing before the Thursday service and proclaiming the word at Friday’s service). If you are in the Rochester area and don’t have a commitment to another church, please join us on any of those evenings (The Community of the Savior website has details.) Easter is far richer when we have honored the passion on Thursday and Friday. Then on Sunday I will have the privilege of preaching at a church currently in pastoral transition, where I am preaching once a month in their interim.
It was one dramatic and full weekend. I am grateful. And now, I look to the coming weekend, when we experience the redemptive drama of this Holy Week. Wherever you live and worship, I urge you to do the same.