"Mark, my words"
October 30, 2019, 10:00 AM

October 30, 2019



When I lived in Florida, I was the chaplain for the local H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) Chapter. It was the corporate sponsored riding group. Each month we would gather for our regular meeting, and various times throughout the month we would also go on rides.

 

In my role as the chapter chaplain, I was privileged to officiate at the funerals of two members. They were both military veterans, and they were buried with honors at the U.S. military cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. They died at different times, but the wives were friends and drew closer as they shared their grief.

 

One Veteran’s day, I was asked to deliver a patriotic and spiritual message at the destination of a ride. In this case, we were riding about 25 miles to, you guessed it, Bushnell cemetery. I was asked to ride in the second position, directly behind the two honor guard riders!

 

As we departed the dealership, I was on top of the world. Little did I know, it was only going to get better! At each intersection, the honor guard and and I blasted through, red lights or green, our passage guaranteed by between two and four local law enforcement units. They looked on with awe, and those who had served in the armed forces saluted as we passed. As we snaked our way around the curves, and up and down the hills of central Florida, I could look in my rearview mirrors and see the three hundred riders stretched out behind us for over a mile! It was awe inspiring. Every intersection we passed was another adventure. Each small town we went through turned out to watch the parade of chrome and leather and Stars and Stripes, led by me! I could barely breathe; afraid I would wake up from this dream!

 

We rolled into the cemetery, and I watched as all three hundred riders rolled slowly past. The raucous excitement of the ride respectfully dissolved into serious, respectful tones as the riders rode past, and then walked past, rows and rows of veteran graves. We gathered in silence and began the program. When it was my turn I spoke. It was well received. As things wrapped up, the military organizer spoke to me, and reminded me that I was to lead the ride back home. Again, I agreed since the ride to the cemetery was one of the coolest things I had ever done.

 

For awhile, the people walked around, visited specific graves, and eventually returned to their bikes to prepare for the ride home. Then it happened. Both widows approached me, and asked me if I would stay behind, let the riders leave, and then visit their husbands’ graves with them and say a prayer. I’d love to tell you that I immediately agreed, but inside I was desperately weighing my options, wondering if I could say no. Not because I didn’t care, but because I wanted another sensational, amazing, legendary ride at the head of a 300-motorcycle column with police escorts! Earthly glory or Heavenly service?

 

God won. I looked these crying women in the eye and assured them that of course I would stay. I informed the commander, who of course understood. I pushed my little Harley to the side of the road and parked it. (I couldn’t bear to draw attention to my early exit.) I stood with these two grieving widows for fifteen minutes as the column of riders fired up their engines and slowly rolled away. Then we mounted up and slowly drove to where their husbands were interred. Silence, tears, brief prayers, more silence, and hugs. Then we got on our bikes and headed back to the dealership.

 

We stopped at every stop light. We even stopped at every stop sign! A couple kids may have looked up from their play to notice three riders passing by, but that was about it. By the time we got back, everything had wrapped up and the dealership was closed for the day. We chatted. They hugged me again and thanked me. I never felt less worthy of being thanked.

 

Riding out with three hundred and back with three. Escorts and crowds and waving on the way out. Quiet, solitary, remembrance on the way back. Leading the crowd as the “God guy” on the way out, part of a mournful group of three on the way back. I knew then that I made the right choice, and I know now my quiet mourning, my short prayer and my often-halted ride back was the most Christ-like thing I did that day.

 

In Romans 12:15, the Apostle Paul urges us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Let me assure you, it easy to rejoice with those who rejoice. It’s a blast. Sometimes it even comes with titles and t-shirts. The second half of the verse, and the second half of my ride, are harder to do. There is less attention. Fewer perks. It can even involve tears, nose-blowing and very long moments of silence. But it is needed. And in its own way, it is even more amazing.

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