Henry Clay was the first.
Jacob Joseph Chestnut and John Michael Gibson were a first.
Later it would be Rosa Parks.
Yesterday it was Billy Graham.
Yesterday afternoon, the body of America’s most famous evangelist lied in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. According to the Architect of the Capitol, “The Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol has been considered the most suitable place for the nation to pay final tribute to its most eminent citizens by having their remains lay in state or in honor.”
“Lying in state” ceremonies are typically reserved for deceased presidents and other elected officials. “Lying in honor” has become the utilized phrase for those who served us in a non-elected capacity.
Allow me to highlight a few additional, key words…
Most “eminent”… meaning illustrious, distinguished, renowned, esteemed, noteworthy, great, prestigious, important, influential, affluential, outstanding…
“Honor”… meaning integrity, honesty, uprightness, ethics, morals, morality, principles, high principles, righteousness, high-mindedness, virtue, goodness, decency, probity, character, scrupulousness, worth, fairness, justness, trustworthiness, reliability, dependability…
And yet I’m struck by how many intentionally dishonor… thinking Chestnut, Gibson, Parks or Graham — the only private citizens given such an honor — were somehow undeserving…
(… oh, how we let our differences get in the way of what’s right sometimes…)
Chestnut and Gibson were U.S. Capitol Police officers killed at the Capitol in the line of duty on July 24, 1998. They stopped a gunman in the Capitol, and were the first private citizens ever given the distinction of “lying in honor” in the Rotunda.
Parks was deemed “the first lady of civil rights,” after she first bravely refused to give up her bus seat in the “colored section” to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. Her act of defiance and continued advocacy infamously inspired many. When she passed away in 2005 at the age of 92, Parks became the first woman and the second black person to lie in honor in the Capitol.
And Graham was one of the most influential preachers of the 20th century. He was a friend to each President — regardless of party — and he helped millions from varied backgrounds, ethnicities, and demographics. Through his teaching and exhortation, those millions learned what it meant to love God and one another. He rested in honor yesterday.
Perhaps my favorite picture from yesterday’s memorial was the one of gathered senators, spouses, and other congressmen, cabinet members, family members, etc. — each still, with eyes closed, heads bowed, and mouths shut.
At that moment, partisanship didn’t matter.
Self-focus didn’t matter.
Difference didn’t matter.
All that mattered was honoring another.
Oh, we have much to learn…