Remembrance Sunday Homily, November 12th 2017
Third Sunday before Advent
Selected verses from Amos 5:v18-24, John 15:v9-17 & Matthew 25:v1-13.
Remembrance Sunday is part of the Church of England and Anglican Church Calendar, to remember those who died in military service to bring freedom and stability. Different Countries have different days – the Netherlands it is of course on May 4th. But the Anglican Church follows the Sunday closest to 11th November, remembering particularly those died in World War One and World War Two but those in subsequent wars and involvements as recently as Afghanistan and Iraq.
I thought to look at Remembrance Sunday it would help to look at it through the lens of another act of remembrance, commanded by Jesus to be held, remembering that last Supper. That act is called by different names, Holy Communion, the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, Eucharist. I believe it helps us reflect on remembering, on being thankful and being agents of change…
At the heart of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, is remembrance. We recall in this, the night before Jesus died on Good Friday, he had a meal with his friends, a meal where he washed their feet, taught them, told them that he would soon be betrayed by one of them, and be killed. He commanded them to love each other as modelled his own expression of love to them – which would be shown on Calvary. He asked the church to remember what was about to happen to him – like the bread he broke, and the wine that was poured, his body would be broken and his blood shed – his death was for them and for each of us, Jesus said: “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15).
On Remembrance Sunday we recall those who died for us, there were those who died in battle – perhaps in their first or after many – there were others who intended to fight but who were died before reaching the front, dying on ships torpedoed by submarines, in bombed cites, or even in friendly fire. We recall all those individual lives.
There was a purpose for Jesus sacrificial death – so that a new future is possible for all of us, so we could be free, free from sin, free from guilt, free from fear.
There was a purpose why these service men and women died. It is often said and I have said it too, that they died to bring freedom, peace, security, stability, seeking to remove injustice and oppression with justice and righteousness. As we reflect on how things would have been, we recall that these deaths have been for a reason.
In Holy Communion, the church is asked to remember a death on a cross, a horrible way to die. For me, remembrance, as we deeply do it, causes us to recall the reality, much of the horrors these members of the armed forces and their families faced.
Growing up, as child and young teenager, I wanted to be in the RAF, to be a fighter pilot. That hope ended when I discovered I needed glasses. But I grew up with a great interest in World War and military things. You know, I could identify different fighter planes and bombers from the war. I had loads of books etc. Yet since I became a church minister, I learned something else about the war.
You see I would meet war veterans and part of me would want to engage them in conversation about the war. But you know what – very few every chatted about what happened. Sure about funny things or where they’d been, but not about events. I believe it was all too painful. I remember a lady in our previous church in England, whose son had served in the Royal Air Force in recent times, and she shared how he never talked about what he had seen or done…
It reminds us of the horrors the members of the armed forces experienced. And the horrors experienced by their families – who would receive a letter about a far off place they didn’t know where it was, telling them their loved one was missing or died at sea. I think the challenge is to remember with reality as best as we can.
A few years ago, I had the privilege to visit a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary in the south of Holland, near Venray, and as I looked at the graves – 15th October, 17th October 21st October, 19, 22, 18, different ages, 300 men in that small place. It struck me again the sadness, the series of deaths within a small space of time. Today our armed forces, serving abroad, need people who seek to understand why they are out there and what they face.
Our remembrance leads us into Thanksgiving. Anglican churches, like this one, often call Communion, Eucharist. A greek word meaning thanksgiving. As we reflect on the death of Jesus, we turn to thanks. We consider that he did lay down his life for us, he did it out of love for us – we did not earn his death, he died out of love, the cross speaks of a God of love.
Likewise at such times, we think of what the armed forces did in the World Wars but also in conflicts since, right up to the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, and also the recently ended peacekeeping role in N.Ireland, my home country. We remember and we express our thanks for what they have done and the sacrifices they made.
Many times as a Scout, I attended Remembrance Services and thought of the lives laid down, which included the soldiers who came to N.Ireland to seek to bring peace and stability. But in recent years, I realised there was more needed, to be thankful, for all they gave up, for these men, who were just doing their job, yet people would hate them or try to kill them. The soldiers who could not walk freely on the streets of our towns, or who had to fly low into their bases, in case of machine gun or rocket attack, or who lived in bases with double walls in case of car bombs or walls high enough to resist mortar attacks. To thank such men and women who came and served away from home.
Finally, in the Roman Catholic church, the name for the Communion service, is Mass. At its core meaning, it means ‘to send’. At the end of a communion service like today, the minister usually says – ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’; ‘in the name of Christ’ people reply.
The view is that you remember,
you give thanks,
and then you go,
empowered by what you have experienced in church to love and serve God.
You return to church each week having loved and served God, and then you are sent again.
As Jesus reminds us, “I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit.” Fruitful lives for God – in our families but also where we live, where we work or study.
Remembrance Day invites us to remember, to be thankful, but also to be an agent of change which we will commit ourselves to in a few minutes. This can take a few forms…
The apostle Paul says to Timothy: “Pray for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2). To pray for authority figures so peace dominates countries and continents and not war, that across our world, justice and righteousness would roll on like an never failing stream.To pray for the colleges, high schools, universities, some of whose students will become influential people in the years ahead. To pray that they – those upcoming leaders and influencers- would be peacemakers and peacekeepers in the coming years.
Praying for the coming kingdom of Christ. Jesus words remind us, in his parable, of a day that will come, unexpectedly. Yet it is possible to only concentrate upon that coming of the Lord and what it means for us individually. But Isaiah 2 states when the kingdom comes:
“The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes, they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.”
And perhaps for some of us, God may lead our lives into situations where we can prevent conflict happening. It sounds crazy, but as someone stated: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As a pastor, I am challenged by the example of German pastors during the Second World War, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who spoke out against Hitler and his regime even though they were warned. And they were imprisoned; some killed. They refused to go with the flow but spoke out, to try and prevent a greater evil coming, sought to see justice and righteousness flow again.
30 years ago, on this Sunday, a bomb exploded on Remembrance Sunday in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. We have heard this story before about Gordon Wilson.
That day, while across Northern Ireland people gathered to remember, the IRA had set off a bomb near Enniskillen’s centotaph. 11 people killed 63 wounded. One of those killed was Marie Wilson, a nurse, daughter of a man called Gordon Wilson. They were buried in rubble – Gordon and Marie were pulled out, but she never regained consciousness.
In an interview with the BBC, broadcast the next day, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers:
“She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, ‘Daddy, I love you very much.’ Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say.”
Wilson went on to add,
“But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She’s dead. She’s in heaven and we shall meet again.
I will pray for these men tonight and every night.”
As historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, “No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact.”
Not everyone felt the way that Gordon spoke, by no means. But he was a committed Christian, and an ordinary man, a man who ran a shop in a county town. Yet when tragedy came, he chose to pray. His faith mobilised and shaped his actions… and his actions, showed the people of his town to be forgiving, reconciling, than fear and conflict.
God may take one of us, some of us, where our influence may be important for a town, for an individual – we may be silent or we chosen to be outspoken for the values of the kingdom.
So, in Remembrance Sunday,
we are thankful,
and we seek to be proactive, to be agents of change as to how God can use us, that what those we remember died for, will not come near again. Amen.
Revd Grant Crowe