On 13 November we marked Remembrance Sunday. Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 98, Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19.
One facet of our common life here on Epiphany Island that never ceases to inspire many of us is the international nature of our community. It allows people from all over the world to meet together to pray and worship God. When we share special celebrations here, we try to find occasions which we have broadly in common while not being afraid to learn from one another’s traditions.
Armistice Day, 11th November, marks the signing of a treaty between Britain and its allies with Germany which brought hostilities in the First World War on the Western Front to a halt. This took effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. As a result around the world various ceremonies have been held on 11th November as a time of remembering those who died. By no means every country marks this day but many of the allies involved in the original armistice do.
In Britain, the closest Sunday to Armistice Day is Remembrance Sunday. Armistice Day in many countries became Remembrance Day after the Second World War as the remembrance broadened out to those killed in that war also though in France, Belgium and New Zealand it has retained its original name. In the USA the day is Veterans Day and recalls all service personnel, while a separate Memorial Day at the end of May recalls those who died in war. For Australia and New Zealand there is also Anzac Day in April which recalls all who served and died in war from those countries. So, following British tradition but recalling similar traditions elsewhere we are meeting to remember those fallen in war. In common with people around the world we have marked two minutes’ silence, though we cannot do it at 11am in every timezone. Traditionally the first minute is to remember the 20 million who died in the First World War and the second minute is to remember loved ones left behind. Of course, those who have comrades who have fallen in war will remember them also in that silence.
Although this commemoration came out of the First World War, war and conflict have been part of human experience for millennia. It is reckoned that war has taken place between people groups since about 4000 BC. Since 2925 BC there has been nearly continuous conflict affecting some part of the world. In fact since the end of the Second World War it seems there have been just 26 days which have been free of any conflict anywhere in the world. In 20th Century alone over 100 million deaths were caused by war. The 21st Century does not seem to be a great deal better so far.
In meeting to remember, we are not seeking to glorify war. There is nothing glorious in people dying before their time in order to try to sort out differences between nations or groups. There may be many acts of bravery to recall, a certain amount of pride perhaps, but war is not a wonderful affair. It’s not even easy to determine who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘enemy’. On a personal note, I owe my very existence to my father’s enemy as his life was saved in the Second World War by a member of the ‘enemy’ nation, a German doctor. Meanwhile, in recent days a member of our Royal Marines has been found guilty of murdering a wounded Afghan fighter. Nothing is clear cut in conflict.
We recall the sacrifice of lives laid down. One way we do that is to wear a poppy.
Poppies grow on disturbed land in Western Europe. Where the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century disturbed the earth, soon there were fields of blood red poppies growing where soldiers had fallen. The same fields were disturbed in late 1914 in Northern France and Flanders and became covered with poppies. A Canadian surgeon, John McCrae, realised how significant the poppy was as a memorial to those who had fallen in war. He wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ which begins:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
This inspired others to use the poppy as a symbol of the sacrifice of people in conflicts.
We as Christians are familiar with a symbol of sacrifice in the cross of Jesus. As Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ Many of us wear a cross both here and in RL as a symbol of how Jesus died, to show that we are Christians, that we remember what Jesus did for us. Jesus understood sacrifice; he understands what those who have fought in war have done in sacrificing themselves for others. Both the poppy and the cross are great symbols of sacrifice.
We meet in sorrow for those who have died and those who have been injured and bereaved. As Christians we are commanded to mourn with those who mourn. We meet in sorrow also for the apparent inability of humanity to find better ways to sort out its differences. Wars are complex, hence it was possible for my history exams at school to often contain a question on “the causes and effects” of some war or other. The effects were all too easy to see. The causes can be a combination of many factors: covetousness on behalf of a leader not satisfied with his sphere of influence, family squabbles, national pride, a feeling of insecurity, oppression, ideological or religious differences, or a fight to have more of the world resources – land, coastline, oil and, one day probably, water. Perhaps also, we meet in sorrow for our own inadequacies in resolving our conflicts in our homes, churches and workplaces.
Remembrance and sorrow are not enough without action. As Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly said:
“They gave their all that we might live in freedom and liberty, but as long as there is hunger, poverty, disease, corruption, hatred, warfare, lies, spin and despair, the debt we owe them is not being repaid. The freedom and liberty they entailed to us is being betrayed. They gave their lives and they were so young, most of them.
Surely those names on our war memorial are speaking to us in the words of the poet:
Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure is nothing much to lose:
But young men think it is, and we were young.”
We need to change as people and work to change our society so that it becomes more and more like the Kingdom of God, so that peace is a reality and not just a nice ideal. The peace we’re aiming for is not just the absence of war; it’s shalom – health, wholeness, well being. The peace that Jesus brings is not like that which the world looks to provide; it’s an altogether greater concept.
All this may seem overwhelming and impossible. However, as Christians we have hope. This life is not all there is; there is more to it than meets the eye. Job was certain in the midst of his troubles that he would see God beyond this life. Paul reassured the church of Thessalonika that Jesus would come again and they should not be shaken in their belief that they would be with him. Jesus, in the face of the Sadduccees’ silly questioning about a life beyond this one that they didn’t believe in, affirmed that there is a resurrection of the dead and of course he proved it by rising himself.
One day Jesus will return and the Kingdom of God will be known in all its wonder and completeness. Meanwhile we do what we can with the opportunities given to us to effect change here and now.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor