Remembrance Sunday 2015
Readings: Jonah 3, 1-5, 10; Ps 62, 4-10; Heb. 9, 24-end; Mark 1, 14-20
Hymns: God be in my head; Lord be thy word my rule; For the healing of the nations; O God our help in ages past
Today, we remember those who have died, and die, in wars across the world, especially but not only the dead of the two World Wars. The First played out largely but not only in Europe with troops from across the world. The Second War, fought in Asia, Africa and Europe, was rooted in the First’s incomplete peace. We remember those soldiers, both volunteers and conscripts, from Africa, the Americas, Australasia, Europe, East and South Asia who fought and died in the First World War, in China and Spain in the 1930s, in the Second World War in Europe, Africa, and Asia, in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Balkans, and the Middle East. We also remember the millions of civilians, women, children and men, who died in the twentieth century international and civil wars, including Bougainville, Balkans, Burma, Central Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Mozambique, North Africa, Russia, South East Asia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and now in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Syria, and those children, women and men who live on injured in mind or body.
In remembering all who died as a result of war, those who fled from or after war and those scarred by childhood experience of war, we turn to prayer, and to Laurence Binyon’s poem, said on this day in the United Kingdom when the Head of State, who lost close relatives on one side, lays a wreath as does her husband, Prince Philip, who lost close relatives on the other. Let us bring to mind grandfathers and great aunts, brothers and mothers, fathers and brothers who suffered or died directly or indirectly in war, including all those fathers and daughters, sisters and sons dying on land or at sea at this moment while fleeing from civil wars. Binyon’s poem recalls lives cut short by war, and the responsibility of all to learn.
‘They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them. ‘
Why does John the Baptist pop up again, and why do we have the naming of the first four disciples today, so close to the end of the church year? Isn’t it back to front? One clue is in the word used for John’s arrest, which actually means ‘being handed over’ and is the same used for Jesus being ‘handed over’ some 14 chapters later. Mark, in other words, is signposting the parallel fate of these two cousins and prophets: a violent death. So as we are moving towards the end of the year and to Advent, we remember the light in dark, and the dark in light, we remember the birth of Jesus ends in his death, that single act which removed sin by the sacrifice of himself, as Hebrews puts it, an act which did not and does not have to be repeated- which is why our Eucharist is a Thanksgiving, not a sacrifice..
But sin is not cancelled just for free, on a ‘well I shouldn’t have done that but I’ll do it again’ basis – nor is forgiveness gained by partial penitence. The people of Nineveh understood that and realising their wrongdoing, confessed, repented, and hoped God would still stay with them, unlike those named in the psalm, who ‘bless with their mouths but inwardly curse.’ Christ died and lived again, after which those who accept and or would draw nearer to God have their own job to do, reflecting, repenting and reconciling themselves with God, their neighbour and themselves.
Jesus and John died for the benefit of all people in processes which, like war but also daily life, were marked by envy, covetousness, vengeance and brutality. We remember today those millions who lives were cut short in current and past wars, current and past trecks across hostile dangerous hungry lands: none had the chance to live out their Biblical three score years and ten, none fulfilled the dreams and plans they had. And for those whose plans including reconciling with God or with someone whom they had hurt, or forgiving someone who had hurt them, death came between. ‘Repent and believe, now’ says Jesus; ‘Mend your ways, now’ says Jonah. Tomorrow, or some vague distant date we set for thinking about reconciling, may be too late, for while apologies spoken to the dead are known to God, they were of no help to the dead during their lifetime. Facing up to damage we have done, or damage done to us, is one thing: expressing that regret to those we hurt, accepting the regrets of those who hurt us, allows sufficient closure to get on with life.
And that’s what we have, unlike those whose lives were cut off in past wars or Greek beaches today: we have life, but are we living our life? Ellie Wiesel said, ‘When you die and you meet God, God won’t ask you “Why didn’t you become a saint, or change the world.” No, all God will ask you at that holy time is: “Why didn’t you become you?”’ It is not easy, sometimes, to know just who we are, given the many threads in our lives, the varied faces we show to others: sometimes there seem so many demands, so many different roles to play. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it thus: ‘I am not just one person, for I bear misfortune equably, smilingly and proudly, but I am also restless and longing and sick… Who am I: this one or the other?’
His poem ends: ‘Whoever I am, thou knowest, Lord, I am thine.’ Whether each person here feels ‘I am God’s fully and continually’ or rather less certainly, let us be confident that God knows and accepts us. May we each find sufficient peace in the hope, even the knowledge, that God alone is our rock, our salvation, our fortress, and that Christ died that we, repenting and reconciling now, might live. Founded on God, let us commit to living in God’s love, to become what God would have us be.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Heidelberg, November 8th 2015