Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Ceremony

They filed in by the somber hundreds. Some with ceremony and ritual, others in a focused walk; yet all with a purpose. They came from everywhere, some from two states away, others from cities just across the river.

Outside, their vehicles filled most of the parking lot, spilling into the mall across the street. At the front of the lot, hundreds lined up in formation under the hot sun, as if preparing for a parade. The whole scene was a striking image of horses, flashing lights and uniforms.

Inside, more uniforms. They overran the building. The auditorium wasn’t nearly big enough, so they lined up along the walls and in the hallways, breaking rank just to make room for the doorways.

Suddenly, the foyer became quiet and the crowd there cleared a path as a limousine pulled up to the door. She stepped out of the limousine, looking very much like someone lost. Her family stepped out as well and gathered around her as if pooling their strength to help her along.

She clutched a tissue. In fact, there were tissues everywhere. Tissues and tears. This was definitely a ceremony, but it wasn’t a celebration. For these fire departments, emergency medical service departments, and police departments, time was standing still.

They were all here to honor one of their own. For some maddening, unexplainable, and irrelevant reason, someone had killed a police officer.

And so, here we were, all sharing in a wife’s unimaginable grief, a mother’s sorrow, and the echoes in thousands of empty hearts.

I didn’t know the officer. And yet, I struggled to take this all in. I was touched at the way his life was honored, but I don’t doubt for a minute that they would all give it away just to have him back. It seemed so empty. The whole scene did not seem to measure up to the life that the officer lived. And yet, lacking any better option, all we could do was gather to pray, comfort, and grieve.

I stepped out into the foyer and watched as the casket was escorted out of the building and into the hearse. The parking lot came to life with the roar of car, truck, and motorcycle engines. The wail of sirens filled the air as the procession fell into order and drove away.

Then, as now, my thoughts turned to those left behind; those now responsible for carrying on.

Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
Psalm 127:1

Lord, I lift up those who have been appointed to preserve our safety and enforce our rules. I pray that You protect them as they serve us. I ask that you give them clarity, wisdom, courage, and foresight as they carry out their duties. May You guide their steps through their day and may Your hand cover them so that they may all return home safely.

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