Here’s to Veterans!

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Wednesday in the week of Proper 27, Year 1 (Pentecost 23, 2015)

Nehemiah 8:4 ~ The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.

Some years ago I was presiding at the Eucharist when this verse was in the Old Testament lesson. Unfortunately, the lector who had not previously reviewed the lesson. He came to this verse and stopped at the word “stood”. After a brief pause, he continued, “. . . and beside him stood some men on his right hand; and some other men on his left hand.”

I’ve used that story as a cautionary tale when training new lay readers and lectors: “Always read the lesson ahead of time.” But today it occurs to me that it is also a story of light-footedness and quick thinking. Rather than stumble over the strange and difficult names, the reader deftly edited “on the fly,” danced past them, and kept on going. Had he tried to read them, mispronounced and made a hash of them, his poor reading would have been what people remembered about the worship service. As it was, only he and I knew what he had done and no one’s experience of the Holy Liturgy was disrupted.

The reader that day was a former U.S. Marine, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. Today is Veteran’s Day (or Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, take your pick of its many names). It seems fitting to remember him and his liturgical nimbleness. I suspect that that sort of quick thinking and ability to improvise on the spot is what kept him alive to be a veteran and not a casualty of war. I know it is a characteristic by father also had; he was a veteran of WW2, whose quick thinking on the battlefield kept him alive though gravely wounded with shrapnel and won him the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

So, today, here’s to nimble, light-footed, quick thinking . . . and to veterans!