The singer-song writer, Paul Simon confessed that when he wrote and sang “The Sound of Silence,” the lyrics didn’t come from a deep-seated, profound level; but that’s the way it resonated to millions of listeners. (NPR interview in 1966 with Terry Gross)
It is that response which fits the feelings when standing in a cemetery. There the lyrics of silent thoughts from an array of memories are set to the accompaniment of the winds, which seem to prefer a cemetery, for whatever the lay of the land or the weather, gentle breezes to gale-like gusts seem to choose graveyards and memorial parks, where they provide the score for a range of remembrances,that both blend and clash; some unsettlingly harsh and others reassuringly peaceful.
A cemetery’s sound of silence that on this Memorial Day Sunday carries the words quoted from today’s Scripture
noted beneath the sermon’s title.
For “In him we live and move and have our being”;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
A cemetery’s sound of silence that amplifies that truth:
All kinds of people are buried in a cemetery, some human remains are housed in a fortress-like shrine, while others are marked with an uncut stone or wooden plaque, but in death – the ultimate equalizer - they rest in the same ground:
beloved and intolerable family members,
caring and impossible neighbors,
comrades in uniform and enemies in battle,
peacekeepers and terrorists,
all – come to the same end, and some are buried in the same ground,
where Paul Simon’s lines take on new meaning:
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And … my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence. (Simon and Garfunkel, 1964)
That whispered word for the Apostle Paul was the line he lifted from a Greek poet (Aratus) to quote while standing surrounded by the “neon gods” of an ancient culture which believed they could control divine forces by housing them in temples and statues, and call upon them in their conquests to dominate the world. Paul appealed to them in the name of the one God who has given us life that makes all of us “his offspring.” –
The God who has worked His way to us, rather than our working our way to God; the God made visible in Jesus Christ,
“the vision softly creeping, Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And whispered in the sound of silence” in a cemetery…
that all of us are God’s offspring.
The whispered words that put Memorial Day, after our bloodiest battle on our land, our own Civil War, on our nation’s calendar, under the title “Decoration Day,”
with many dates and places claiming to be the first to observe it, and officially proclaimed by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. (www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.htm)
Now, “the vision softly creeping”: across our nation, “whispered in the silence” that carries the truth from Paul, preaching in 51 AD in Athens, to our working to practice in our time:
“In him we live and move and have our being”;
“For we too are his offspring.”
The sound of silence that sweeps across our cemeteries where, on this Memorial Day weekend, our nation’s flag marks the graves of those who have given their life in service to our nation, and whispers to us that we, one nation under God, are to keep on working to honor God by recognizing the truth that all are God’s children – whether or not they accept that truth and pledge themselves to put it into practice.
The winds that sweep across some flag marked raises stories of heroes and heroines who have turned a former enemy into a present-day friend and planted the seeds of peace in the ashes of war.
An orphaned child of the enemy adopted and given a new life,
bullets shaped into bells for cattle grazing on a former battlefield turned into pastureland,
a pilot who dropped one of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima
returning as a Christian missionary to teach and model
the peace of God in Jesus Christ.
On this Memorial Day, the Gospel word of Jesus is carried on the wind to every grieving soul, especially those who have lost a loved one in service to our country, years before a natural time to die:
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
Every time Lt. Michael Murphy returned from a leave at home, he would text his mother “Momma, home safe and sound, Mike.”
On June 29, 2005, the dreaded visit was made to his home to\report he was missing in action in Afghanistan where, later, he was reported to have been killed.
When he was buried with full military honors at Calverton National Cemetery near his home in Long Island, New York, his Mother’s cell phone rang as she walked to the funeral limousine; it wasn’t appropriate to open it then, she would do it later. When she did, the text read: “Momma, home safe and sound, Mike.” a message delayed by four months. His parents read it as timed to come to them as their son’s way to tell them he had reached his eternal home “safe and sound.”
(Salute, Spring/Easter, P. 15-16, 2014)
The assurance carried on the winds that sweep across a cemetery to all who in faith hear in the sound of silence of Jesus’ Gospel word,
“I will not leave you orphaned;
because I live, you also will live.”