Friday, March 4, 2016

What Do You Stand For?

Copyright © Edward Riojas
“The Three Soldiers”
Frederick Hart. 1984.
(Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial,
Washington, D.C.)

The U.S. was in all kinds of upheaval during the 1960s and, though I was a young child, I had a fairly good sense of what a lot of it was about. For one thing, we were mired in the middle of the Vietnam War. Nightly news brought the ugliness of it to our living rooms, which didn’t help. The draft pulled “our boys” away from home and into a distant jungle. Body bags came home from “Nam” and we mourned. Soldiers walked off the tarmac when heading home and were ignored — or worse. We wanted the quagmire to go away and be forgotten, and for years we treated the veterans in like manner.

Years after they all finally came home, I attended a 4th of July parade and realized that the national attitude had changed. Maybe our collective shame finally came to a head. Maybe we finally realized the cost and the sacrifice of those who served, remembering those who gave their lives, and being thankful toward those who still lived among us.
“Salute the Flag”
Norman Rockwell

The Vietnam vets weren’t yet close to me in that parade, but I could hear the roar of the crowd. This ragtag unit of floppy-hatted men did not march to a crisp cadence, and many sported ponytails and beards and prosthetic limbs, but when their ranks came into view, we stood as one and cheered as never before. Sitting was not an option.

There are other times and places in which we make a visual symbol with the same physical gesture. King George II is said to have originated the practice of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s “Messiah.” Apparently, the king was so moved by the piece that he stood. And when the king stood, everyone stood. We may have thumbed our noses at the monarch, but we have followed his suit ever since.

We even stand during the most mundane events. If you don’t get off your duff during the National Anthem at a sporting event, you risk some very nasty looks and the occasional flying beer cup. You’ll get the same looks at school if you don’t stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, and you might get a bonus trip to the principal’s office.
“The Village Wedding”
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes.
1883. (Private Collection)

The bride nary takes one step down the church aisle before everyone gets on their feet. It isn’t so much a sign of respect from days past as it is the first chance to see a spectacular dress or a poignant moment or a wardrobe fail. But to remain seated would either send a message of disapproval or announce one’s membership in the party-pooper club.

So why does it become such a dilemma when the cross of our Lord starts up the same aisle as walked by the bride? We are so ready to give standing ovations after mediocre performances, but we wonder if we should stand in honor of the One who causes the waves to clap their hands. Thankfully, the congregation I belong to has been well-trained in reverence, but I have been in much larger sister congregations in which folks steal last-minute glances in the bulletin to see if the words “Please stand” are actually in print.
“A Medieval Christmas -
The Processional”
Albert Beck Wenzell. 1899.
(Private collection)

It really is simple. You stand for questionable brides. You stand for one last Barry Manilow song. You stand during the National Anthem played in the key of whatever. You stand for veterans who risked lives for the safety of your nation. Please stand for the Lord of all  — even if no one else does. Stand for the One who is the Groom of His bride, the Church; for the One who causes us to sing a new song; for the One who richly blesses our land; for the Savior who gave His own life that you might live. And as His symbol of salvation passes by, you may return yet another symbol of reverence — and bow.

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