Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2020
8th Nov 2020
Remembrance Sunday Sermon 2020
“…and so we will be with the Lord for ever”. 1 Thessalonians 4.12
Remembrance Sunday occupies a sea of human experience which spans life and death and suffering and loss with the promise of the life that yet awaits us. It is in this vein that St Paul promises, no matter how challenging are the demands of the present time, that “we will be with the Lord for ever”. He echoes the phrase that Jesus uses so often of the life that has been transformed by God’s indwelling presence. He calls it ‘eternal life’. And this ‘eternal life’ is to be found in the present time.
Now is eternal life
If risen with Christ we stand
In him to life reborn
And holden in his hand
No more we fear death’s ancient dread
If Christ arisen from the dead.
GW Briggs (1875-1959) NEH Hymn 114.
Like many other sons and daughters of Second World War veterans, I could never, as an inquisitive child, get my father to speak about his war experiences. I only later learnt that, on demobilisation, as it was called, the combatants were firmly told not to share them. And so my father collected his de-mob suit and a small payment and as the old war song went “packed up his troubles in his own kit bag”. I have felt since that the medals he won were medals for a war experience which was very difficult to assimilate. But he had made what was the necessary sacrifice of his young manhood on behalf of his country and had been tested to the uttermost. I have honoured him in my own heart and mind for all that could never be expressed, but for much I hazard a guess, that was very significant.
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 without recourse to obvious personal reward. 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 present to us in the falling of the red petals. Each one will always matter, for each one gave their life for the greater good.
In our own time the offering of our lives as a sacrifice for the good of the other and the good of the whole society and even for the good of the world, still holds true. As we begin another period of Covid ‘lockdown’ we are being challenged to respond to this emergency with love and imagination. The Christian churches are determined that this period should not take us back to the lockdown of March to August. We are determined that our churches should remain open for prayer. The leaders of our church have inaugurated this month of November as one of prayer, and you will see topics for prayer on our news sheet and signposting to the relevant websites. The Archbishop of York has called the doing of prayer a “letting God into the room of our consciousness’. When we are at prayer we make ourselves open to God’s inhabitation and the transformation of our minds. When we establish a pattern of prayer, however simple, we invite spiritual resilience. Prayer will be the bedrock upon which acts of Christian generosity both on behalf of ourselves and others. At a time of grave crisis, prayer is the place of deep wisdom, described in our first reading this morning.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
And one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care.
The proper demand, when we are under the pressure of events, is to move away from our own anxiety and into a place of strong peace which is God. That is not to say we run away from the place of testing and trial nor is it to say that we belittle the trials and tests that are demanded of us. But it is to embrace another way, another route through which we may be spiritually renewed in joy and in hope. The practical compliment to the recourse to prayer is the life of self-sacrificial giving for the sake of the other; for the greater good. The prevalence of anxiety and the threat of despair are counteracted by the trust in our humanity and the capacity we all have to attain to eternal life in the present.
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 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, in the words of the Wisdom writer, ‘rich in immortality’. As Dylan Thomas poem ‘And Death Shall have No Dominion’ promises:
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 hope that resides in the human spirit.