Remembrance Sunday November 12, 2023
Readings: Amos 5. 18-24; 1 Thess. 4. 13-end; Mt. 25. 1-13
Theme: War and Peace
The primary purpose of any government or ruling authority is to secure the peace and order of their territory. Together with the power to rule comes the responsibility to ensure that people are kept safe and in good order. This is why we have police forces and armed services. Their role is to implement the decrees of these ruling authorities so as to ensure peace and good order.
The cost of this for those who serve on our behalf to ensure harmony is that they put their lives on the line for us. As that haunting Kohima Epitaph, which often accompanies the laying of wreaths puts it, “When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today”. Serving in this way is a difficult and dangerous occupation, but it is one which is necessary so that a society can function well and maintain itself in a stable order. Such service of the community that the police and armed services provide is necessary. It is necessary because the world in which we live is divided by violence, war and hatred. Thus was it ever so and it will remain so until the end of time. The world, as well as being a most beautiful and loving place is also one which is deeply scarred by forces of destruction which impoverish all our lives.
Today we remember, on this our Remembrance Sunday service, all those men and women who have given their lives to preserve the peace and good order of our society. They have paid the ultimate price by sacrificing their own lives for our sake and it is for this reason that we remember them and pay them due honour and respect.
Some of us may know what it means to serve in the police or armed forces from our own personal experience. Others, will have family members who have been in the police and services and we know from hearing their experience what it means to serve in this way. For still others this may be a strange and foreign world which is threatening and alienating. Whatever our relation to these experiences, we are all united by our common need for peace and security in order that we and our families and friends can flourish. The experience of war and conflict is one which prevents this flourishing and degrades, dehumanizes and destroys the potential each of us have to make a real difference in the world.
In religious language, war and peace are set within the framework of the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, grace and sin. Each and every one of us, I am sure, knows this struggle, in the depths of our own hearts. It is as if this cosmic struggle is mirrored in the very depths of our own hearts, in the bottom of our souls. We are suspended, as it were, between two poles. The pole of the good and the pole of evil. At times the almost magnetic attraction to the dark side seems to take us over, as if we are taken hostage by an invading force. The effects of this on us are that it leaves us empty, barren and unsatisfied; as if we are hollowed out and lose our sense of self. Sin has this effect on us. It is the way in which the power of evil reduces us to something less than human. The struggle to follow the good is just that, a struggle, and it never stops being a battle to follow the good and to avoid evil.
Such language of struggle, combat and strife, which is common in many of the Christian spiritual writers throughout the ages, is one which reminds us that, as in our first reading from the prophet Amos, “the day of the Lord is darkness and not light”. The spiritual battle is real. The forces of good and evil which penetrate our daily life are ever present and they always confront us with a choice: to follow the way of love and of peace or of hatred and of war.
So, in remembering our service personnel today, we do so in the light of our own spiritual struggles. In them, we see the cost of choosing the way of love and of peace. This witness of sacrifice mirrors the martyrdom of so many Christian men and women throughout the ages who have gone into battle to preserve the peace. It is the paradox of war that its only justification is that it is the last resort to preserve a lasting peace. This is why the response must always be proportionate and truly for a just cause that is realizable. Nobody should ever desire this. It is always the consequence of a failure of diplomacy. But it is a sad reality of our world that due to its brokenness in sin and division it is an ever-present threat.
As we remember our service personnel today, we do so at a time of war on many fronts. The illegal invasion of Russia into the sovereign territory of Ukraine and the Israel-Palestine conflict means that many men, women and children will lose their lives to the insatiable appetites of some for power and destruction. These tragic events unfolding before our very eyes through the medium of our television screens remind us, if ever we needed reminding, that the struggle to preserve the peace is one which involves great sacrifices. It is to the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that we pause today and say that, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”. “We will remember them”.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.