There are times when the calendar says "be happy" and circumstances are sober, and there are times when the calendar says "be sober" but God brings us joy. That's a challenge, but when we share this common human experience it helps hold all of us up.
Today, the calendar gives us something serious to hold in mind. The current Mother's Day in the U.S. began in 1908, but before that, Julia Ward Howe tried to start a "Mother's Day for Peace" in the 1870's. This was no fuzzy holiday; Howe lived through violent times.
We're at the anniversary of one of those times. Grant and Lee fought one of the most violent battles of the Civil War at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia, in May of 1864. More than four thousand people perished during that battle. These were kids far from home under conditions we cannot imagine, advancing on the Union side the cause of freedom for people other than themselves.
We all know the names Grant and Lee. Today we name one of the 4,000.
At the back left of the church is a stained glass window for William Baker Neff. William was a member of Grace Church. Shall we call him "Will"?... he was, after all, only 18 when he enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. He died following a charge at Laurel Hill in the Spotsylvania battle in 1864. The charge on Laurel Hill took place on May 8th, and Neff's death is reported on May 12th. He allowed himself to enter that place of terrible loss and pain for the hope that others would someday live, free and in peace.
Please stop at the Neff window on your way back to your pew from Communion this Sunday. This coming Monday will be May 12, 2014 - the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of William's death. There is so little we can say when we face that window.
As we mark the whole fifty days of Easter with William and all the saints, let's pray for everyone in our time living under any kind of slavery or injustice. We can show our gratitude for William's faithful example and for our very redemption by being, we ourselves, encouraging, active, effective, patient forces for good in our church and in our world.