Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2017
12th Nov 2017
Remembrance Sunday 2017
‘Our hope is rich in immortality’ from Wisdom 3.4
I have here a silver pyx, a small box into which are reverently placed the little wafer breads, the consecrated hosts, Eucharistic breads brought to the sick and the housebound. But this pyx is different. It has an inscription on its reverse side which simply says ‘In Memoriam 1940’. I have no idea what lay behind this inscription. Perhaps this pyx had belonged to a chaplain in the forces during the Second World War, or was donated to a church in memory of a loved one; or perhaps given in memory of someone who been suddenly killed? I shall never know. What I do know is that here is a silver pyx inn which is inscribed a date which is enormously significant to the donor and intended always to be remembered.
Remembrance Sunday catches something of this poignancy. It occupies a sea of human experience which spans life and death and suffering and loss with the promise of a hope 'rich in immortality’. It brings us in touch, with the brutality and the futility of war and the sorrow of loss. At the same time we begin to recognise the dignity and the eternal worth of human life and of human sacrifice. If we are to speak of God’s presence in the face of human tragedy, we might recall his presence in so many acts of self-giving. The word ‘sacrifice’ is not only the giving of life unto death, but also the daily offering of dedicated and willing service as another kind of ‘laying down of life’.
The Christian Faith is predicated on sacrifice - the reaching out beyond the life here to the life beyond in the giving of oneself for the sake of the other. The many war memorials across the world with the 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 vivid in the falling of the red petals. Each one always matters…
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 succumbed to the deadliness of materialism and cynicism but instead rejoices in the Christian hope which is ‘bright with immortality’, and which stands as a rebuke to the closed mind and the stone heart.
The Christian way forward lies through the proper honouring of the human condition as it is found. It lies in the preparedness to sacrifice our own selves for the good of the greater human whole. The Christian Gospel and the teaching of Christ is a summons to attend to these things. 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 joyously given away, sacrificed in disinterested love. The life of Jesus has shown that victory over the powers of death is won 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 none of them insignificant in the outworking of God's purposes for this world.
Sometimes large, unbelievable 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 to an understanding of the power of human self-sacrifice in the present and in this and every age. Christ has shown us the Way and in Him our hope remains, a sure hope, which, in the words of the Wisdom writer, is ‘rich in immortality’.
‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ - Dylan Thomas
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.
Written between the wars in 1933, Thomas's poem takes on a broad theme of remembrance and the eternity of the human spirit.