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Chaplain points beyond the flag and the coffin

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Pointing to an American flag given to his grandmother after his grandfather died in Okinawa, U.S. Naval Reserve chaplain Endel Lee affirmed, “I love this symbol!” Yet, pointing to an empty casket on which the flag laid, he cautioned, “This symbol is not enough to conquer the symbol of death on which it lays.”

Pausing to look to the chapel cross hanging over him, he continued, “It is the power of the cross and the resurrection lived out in the lives of every believer that becomes the symbol of hope.

“Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there would be no hope for those involved in the tragic events of these days,” he said.

Lee, assistant professor of preaching and pastoral work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s College of Undergraduate Studies and the father of two children, departed Tuesday, Sept. 25, to New York City to serve at least nine days on a chaplaincy support team.

On Friday, Sept. 21, in a special day of remembrance for those who lost their lives and the victims of Sept. 11’s tragic events, Lee led members of the seminary family and community in a memorial service in which 19 candles were lit to represent various groups affected by the terrorist action.

Joining New Orleans police officer Olivia Fontenot, who lit a candle representing police officers, were community members Natalie Rideau, an employee of the World Trade Center in New Orleans, and John Bertarelli, religious program specialist at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chase, La., who lit candles for the World Trade Center and Pentagon victims. Members of the seminary family, representing age groups, those in Christ, those without Christ and even the nation’s enemies, also lit candles as a reminder of those affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Having devoted nearly 20 years to the military reserves, the last eight as a Navy chaplain, Lee preached from Luke 7:11-17, a passage which details a grieving mother’s loss of her only son. In these verses, Jesus, moved by his compassion over a mother’s pain, touched her son’s coffin, instructing the young man to “arise.”

“In response to this extraordinary event, people were first afraid, then began to glorify God, then the news spread like wildfire,” Lee noted.

“We should be sharing this kind of news as well. You have been appointed to this challenge,” he told the New Orleans Seminary audience.

Noting throughout the Bible that Jesus did not resurrect all who had died, with only a few such incidents actually recorded as a sign of Christians’ future hope, Lee recounted the community’s reaction to the young man’s restored life: “Everyone reacted with awe, shouting, celebrating and sharing the reality of the resurrection.

“They exchanged the symbol of the casket for a symbol of hope,” Lee said.

Acknowledging the growing momentum of spiritual interest and united efforts in the United States and throughout the world after Sept. 11’s tragedies, Lee said Christians need to take advantage of today’s opportunities to share about Jesus, his resurrection and the potential for individuals to have assurance of hope.

“We can live today in the midst of tragedy knowing that one day Jesus will make this kind of resurrection difference in our lives,” Lee said.

Inviting the seminary audience to linger before the open casket, Lee encouraged, “Take a second to ask God to make you able to stand before this symbol of death with the message of the resurrection and embrace your opportunity to become a symbol of hope to a dying world.

“Do not let the tragedy of these days cover up the symbol of hope within us.”

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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