1 God is our refuge and strength, •
a very present help in trouble;
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, •
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea;
3 Though the waters rage and swell, •
and though the mountains quake at the towering seas.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, •
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her;
therefore shall she not be removed; •
God shall help her at the break of day.
6 The nations are in uproar and the kingdoms are shaken, •
but God utters his voice and the earth shall melt away.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; •
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
8 Come and behold the works of the Lord, •
what destruction he has wrought upon the earth.
9 He makes wars to cease in all the world; •
he shatters the bow and snaps the spear
and burns the chariots in the fire.
10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God; •
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; •
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15.50–58
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Sermon on Remembrance Sunday
“We shall remember them” echoes around this part of the month of November, but never more poignantly than today this year – the centenary of the Armistice of the war to end all wars.
Many have visited Slimbridge to stand watch, to remember, with the wire soldiers over the graves of the young men who died in that war. The loss of so many from the parishes of this benefice has been highlighted this year with the events in Slimbridge and throughout the country. So many have been remembered poignantly.
As you know I listen to Radio Three. The loss of so many musicians and composers has been lamented deeply, recalling them to mind by playing the music they had left behind them before their untimely deaths. Let us, as a song puts it, “beat the drums slowly” while we remember them, let the drums beat as our hearts pound in our breasts as we mourn the loss of so many.
Today we remember the dead from war, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We are their friends: we are friends unseen by the dead of war. So many wars have been fought in this century, some named as such, others hidden under other names, like “conflict” or “police action” or “peace keeping”. Whatever the name used, the dead lie in their graves, while all of us mourn their loss in some way.
We have stood by cenotaphs up and down the land. We have remembered those who laid down their lives for their friends. We have bowed our heads in the silence of eleven o’clock on November eleventh for the past hundred years, and still we mourn the fact that war continues and more will die because of mankind’s inhumanity. We will mourn those friends who have died for the sake of their friends, those who were by their sides and those who remember them today, at a far remove.
How can we transform this mourning into joy?
“We shall remember them” tolls in our hearts in that slow drum beat of remembrance. How – how shall we remember them? Their heroic deeds of going over the top? Their painful deaths after the battle? Their extended deaths well after the war has been declared over?
I believe the departed have passed life on to us. That is what we should remember and rejoice in our collective life humbly.
I was reading a novel, a murder mystery set in Canada, in which the central character reflects on the elderly, specifically the elders of the Inuit during the winter, the harshest time of the year for those in the frozen north. He said that in those times of hardship the elderly would walk off. They would find themselves on an ice-flow and sail away. I suppose it would be like the fellow with Scott in the Antarctic who stood up and said, “I may be some time,” and left. No one said anything, did they? Just as no one says anything in that village of the far north when one of the elders leaves quietly.
Captain Oats made the same ultimate sacrifice like the nameless elders of the Inuits. I am absolutely sure that we can imagine the thoughts of the freezing party surrounding Scott just as easily as we can imagine what the immediate family in the frozen north thought and felt – don’t we do the same at the side of the sick-bed of a loved one who is less than vigorous, whose life is passing before our eyes.
“We shall remember them.” summarises all, doesn’t it? It is a shorthand for thoughts and feelings, for our mourning.
Whom shall we remember today? We are in the midst of the season of remembrance. We have remembered all the saints and we have remembered all the souls. Today we answer “We remember the fallen”. Certainly we remember the soldiers and sailors who have given their tomorrows for our todays. But there are many others who have fallen, aren’t there?
So many have died less than heroic deaths in war. Some died in prison camps. Some died by the wayside, forgotten. Some died much later than the end of the battle, at home in their rooms, alone in terror because of their experiences. Some just, as McArthur said, “faded away” into the mist of time anonymously. – There are so many ways of falling because of war. So we must continue to remember in order to learn from the bloody past.
Memory plays the greatest of roles in culture, doesn’t it? We remember the past, like in a rowboat – we travel forward as we look behind perhaps occasionally looking over our shoulder, but that future glance is so hard.
We remember. And to transform the tears of grief into tears of joy, just like those who made that sacrifice, we love. This is our battle which we must win. We must love.
In spite of all the odds, in spite of the culture of hatred, and doubt, and self-absoption – we struggle to love, to care without concupiscence for the person in front of us. We struggle against the enemy, those who are unkind, those who are selfish, those whose horizons encompass no-one else.
So we wander into the frozen wasteland of our contemporary society, hoping to conquer the loneliness, the lack of compassion, everything we realise is lacking when we have no friend, when we feel no love. “What a friend we have in Jesus”, as the venerable children’s hymn goes, Jesus who is willing to give everything up for us – Has he done this for me??? we sometimes ask. He has done this for me!!! we then proclaim with joy.
Amazing grace, indeed. That old hymn is the adults’ standard, one that we children grow up to sing with gusto, ultimately understanding just what a friend really is.
How shall we remember those people who have shared the grace of love with us? That is the struggle love faces every moment of every day. How shall we remember those friends we have in Jesus, let alone the one friend we do have in Jesus?
Paul writes, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” When we do remember our friends is that moment of the last trumpet, that twinkling of a conscientiously and conscious seeing eye.
“We shall remember them”