Memorial Day Weekend
Chilmark Community Church
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
This is perhaps the 3rd time I have been involved with a service of Blessing The Fleet. Each time I prepare for this ritual, I become aware of the gift of grace of living in an environment where we are surrounded and embraced and occasionally battered by the sea. And I am quite mindful that a service like this could not happen in Montana or Nebraska or Arizona with quite the same meaning or sense of immediacy.
Being a landlubber at heart, I am quite content to just stand in the sand or on the jetty – maybe get my feet wet – – and marvel at the ever changing and beautiful and sometimes challenging and frightening mystery of the ocean. But I am also blessed to live surrounded by so many people who love to be in and on the water – – who may even have a bit of the briny deep running in their veins. And it is for these human beings and their various vessels that we offer our prayers and blessings this morning. The love of the oceans, the need to never be far from the water, the joy and adventure of being out of sight of the land are all so old in us. Whether we draw on the ancient witness of the early chapters of the book of Genesis or we defer to the science of evolution – -or whether we harmonize them in our understanding – -the ocean seems to be where it all began.
So – we gather to bless the fleet. It might be well to pause for a moment and ask ourselves why we do this? What good does it do to leave our comfort zones early on a Sunday morning to come to the water’s edge – to spend some time together in the wind and fog and the dampness and go through this ritual that happens on the sea coast and at river edge harbors at different times of the year all around the world?
Do we bless the fleet because that’s something we’re supposed to do? Because it has become something habitual we do every year? Or does it have meaning beyond tradition? What does it mean when we bless something anyway? What are we doing when we invoke God’s blessing on someone or something?
Hear these words from the Book of Genesis: Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
These verses tell us what blessing is about. Most obviously, blessing is the opposite of cursing. While cursing someone or something invokes energies and emotions that separate people from one another, blessing sets in motion the energy of relationship. Blessing puts in place the foundation upon which love and concern, friendship and compassion can be built.
Abraham and his clan traveled on land. The tempests and storms they faced had more to do with encountering other people, other clans, strangers, and potential enemies, than they did with encountering storms or enemies on the seas. Still – -the challenge of blessing fell upon him and his family. Essentially, God said “ I will bless you….so that you will be a blessing.
So the act of blessing is a divine and human thing. We receive the blessing of God so that we might become a source of blessing for others – – a force for good, a force for healing, a force for reconciliation and well being.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we honor and remember lives spent and lost in the service of protecting all that we are privileged to enjoy in this country. We also take time to remember all the ways we are served and blessed by the women and men who spend much of their lives on the water. On this occasion of blessing the myriad vessels that sail in our waters, it is well for us to remember the power that we have to unleash goodness – to affect relationships in a positive way – to create a more harmonious and loving world.
To invoke a blessing is essentially an act of gratitude. When we bless it is hard to carry forward grudging or negative feelings toward the object of our blessing. To bless opens the way for the flow of lovingkindness, compassion, hospitality and grace. In the ancient story, our ancestors are called not only to bless – – but to BE a blessing. The very way they carry themselves in the world is to BE a blessing.
So why do we bless the fleet? Surely to invite the safety and well being of all who make their living on the water; definitely to honor all who serve to protect our shores and our air space; and certainly to care for all who find rest and relaxation and re-creation on the water.
But invoking blessing does more than that. When we bless, we open channels of grace – – we become channels of grace – -and our own lives become larger and more generous. We actually are on the way to becoming the blessing we are called to be in our own persons.
So may we offer our prayers and our songs together this morning in the service of the ancient affirmation that we are indeed blessed in order to be a blessing to others and may grace flow in abundance toward all whom we bless this day.
Jamie Douglas, bag pipe with Coast Guard .