Dr. Judi Schwanz
Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling
For many people, Memorial Day doesn’t fall on the last weekend in May – it comes on April 19 each year. On that date in 1993, eighty-one people died when the FBI stormed the compound of the Branch Davidian cult.
On the same date two years later, a truck full of explosives detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. A total of 168 people died that day, including 19 children.
The city, indeed the whole nation, was rocked by waves of shock and grief. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, people sought ways to honor those that had died as well as those who had risked their lives as first responders.
We have a natural human instinct to remember. Part of the healing process in times of loss involves memorializing. To speak the names and tell the stories of those who are gone helps to keep them alive in our memories.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum beckons visitors to the site where the Murrah building once towered. A field of empty chairs symbolizes lives cut short – 168 chairs, each with a name inscribed on it. A grove of trees stands in silent thanksgiving as a reminder of rescue workers who rushed in from near and far. A portion of the original chain-link security fence remains on the sidewalk just outside the memorial. Eighteen years later, people still leave notes and symbolic trinkets on the fence each day. Many of the notes say things like “we’ll never forget” or “we still miss you.” (For more information on the Memorial, go to www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org).
April 19 is another memorial day for me. That’s the date I was born (I won’t say what year). That is also the date my father died, in 2000. So, every year as my birthday approaches, I also remember my dad. I thank God for his life and all that he taught me. I seek to honor his memory in the choices I make. I look at photos and tell my grandchildren stories about him. In the church where I grew up, there is a piano given in memory of my parents – a fitting tribute to two people who sang in the church choir their whole adult lives.
As we journey through this Lenten season, the community of believers remembers our Lord. In his Last Supper with the disciples, Jesus told them that as often as they ate the bread and drank the cup, it was Memorial Day. As we share in the Eucharist, speak the name of Jesus, and tell the good news of the Kingdom, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).