Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2016
13th Nov 2016
Remembrance Sunday 2016
Their hope was rich in immortality. Wisdom 3.4
Remembrance Sunday remains with me as a very vivid memory from my childhood, some fifty years ago. In my home town of Plymouth the Act of Remembrance took place on the vast esplanade which provides a dramatic high platform overlooking a wide expanse of sea. And it was on this platform and from a Plymouth that had been completely rebuilt after the ravages of the blitz, that the old soldiers marched. The guns from the nearby barracks on the Hoe boomed out to sea and their echoes returned. The two minutes’ silence was held in an intense atmosphere which was full of human dignity in the deeply felt remembrances and the sorrow.
Standing back from this memory, I had once felt sure as the years passed, this Day of Remembrance for the War Dead would spend itself with the passage of time and with the deaths of the combatants of the World Wars. But this has not been the case. For this Sunday strikes a chord in the human heart. Remembrance Sunday is much more than the sum total of the observances that take place. It occupies a sea of human experience which spans life and death and particularly suffering and loss with the hope 'rich in immortality'. It brings us in touch, yes with the brutality and the futility of war and the sorrow of loss and at the same time with the dignity and the eternal worth of human of human life and of human sacrifice. If we were to speak of God’s presence in the face of such tragedy, we might own that, even amidst the horrors of suffering, there emerge so many acts of amazing self-giving. The word ‘sacrifice’ is brought strongly to mind not only as the giving of life unto death, but also the daily offering of dedicated and willing service in many acts of willing self-sacrifice which constitute another laying down of life.
These are of course Christian figures of speech – the reaching out beyond the life here to the life beyond, and the transformation of the human condition in a life which gives of itself to the other. The book of Wisdom declares this an expression of a hope ‘rich in immortality’. The many war memorials across the world call to us today with their seemingly endless rows of names, with each name a whole life, a life of hopes and dreams and cares and joys and pains. And as the poppy petals fall down into the Albert Hall each year at the Festival of Remembrance each petal represents one life given. Each one counts; each one was significant; each one gathered up and made present to us in the falling of the red petals.
God’s very being, ‘bright with immortality’, is with us now. And in a world in which war and the waging of war still remains a reality we ask ourselves as Christians how we are to understand this Remembrance Sunday in relation to life in the early twenty first century? We commemorate this Sunday only days after the Christian World commemorates All Souls, the Day of the Dead. In London the dead leaves fall to the ground and crunch underfoot as nature accompanies the hallowing of the dead and the poppies are seen everywhere. The present day vocation for the Christian is to proclaim a life that has not secumbed to the deadliness of a world turned in on itself, with a closed mind and a stone hear, but to the bright hope that resides in our co-dependency, and and in the call to serve one another as Christ has surely served us.
This is our way forward. It lies in the proper honouring of the human condition as it is found, and a patient preparedness to sacrifice our own selves for the good of the greater whole. The Christian Gospel and the teaching of Christ is before else a summons to a wholehearted response. Deadness is there in the life which has withdrawn into itself and which takes no risks and avoids having any demands made upon it. Abundant life is there when it is given away, sacrificed in disinterested love for the other. The life of Jesus has shown that victory over the powers of death is won through in the offering of our lives for the greater good which is God. We may do this in perhaps in little ways. But they are all of them nonetheless significant.
Sometimes large amounts of sacrifice have had be given for the sake of the good, and for the peace of the world. This day reminds us that the self-sacrifice of the many in the past may lead us on to an understanding of the power of human self-sacrifice in this and every age. In this way we contribute as they have in the past to the eternal worth of human sacrifice for a hope 'rich in immortalty'.
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ - Dylan Thomas
Written between the wars in 1933,
Thomas's poem takes on a broad theme of remembrance and the eternity of the human spirit.