Sermon for THIRD SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT (Remembrance Sunday) Sunday 11 November 2012
Remembrance Sunday 2012
Silence speaks louder than words. For all the books, all the memoirs, all the talks and films about war, there were thousands of men and women who came back from the wars of the last hundred years, and said nothing. It was that bad. They could not express in words what had happened to them, and they knew they would not be understood. But the memories would not go away. Suffering is not being able to talk about your sufferings. Time does not heal. For many old soldiers those memories, the silent remembrance, got worse. This is repeated in our own time. We have been at war for ten years, in Iraq, in Kosovo, and in Afghanistan, and we are largely untouched by it because others, the young men and women fighting on our behalf, keep the suffering of war at a distance. But they bring the stress and strain and the memories home, and they know we do not understand. It is that bad. Today, Remembrance Sunday, we try to put that right. Our religion demands remembrance. A nation which forgets its war dead has lost the war.
We set ourselves an impossible task. We remember today not only our own enlisted service men and women who have died in the course of duty, but those on the other sides too, and all those caught in between, of no allegiance, whose lives were torn apart, those who fled and wandered the earth, those who stayed and suffered unbelievable degradation and fear. For that task we gave ourselves a formal two minutes. But at least it was two minutes of silence. Our silence declares that Christianity does not have easy answers to human existence. We are not called to broadcast a glib Christian solution to death and the evils of war. Christianity is a way of listening in the silence. I’ve always found the two minutes silence rather difficult: possibly because in other parishes, the silence has come half through the service, and I have been a bundle of nerves trying to synchronise prayers, silence, bugle call and National Anthem with the striking of the church clock. For the railwaymen and women of the Paddington Royal British Legion and the police of Paddington Green this was a test which the padre either passed or failed. But the two minutes silence has been difficult, too, because I have never known what to think about. I used to try to fill the silence with my own thoughts. Military history interests me, so going back to be with those who lived and died in battle is one option: that is one sort of remembrance and a valuable exercise, an imaginative re-telling of what happened, an acknowledgment that the dead are not forgotten, that their sacrifice has value to us. But it’s not enough. Christian love, Christian remembrance, is more than empathy. The two minutes silence isn’t our silence to fill, with our thoughts. It is their silence. It is the silence of the dead. It is the silence of those whose lives are over. It’s a silent place, which we fear, but that’s where we meet them today, and I don’t know a way of going from here to there without God. So fragile is the peace of the world, so fragile, so easily broken, is the peace in our hearts, it is so easy to be swept away, knocked off balance by evil, both in our personal lives, and in the regimes which threaten our civilisation, that our hope – and that is the ultimate Christian value, hope – our only hope is in a source of strength and endurance beyond ourselves. The only God we can trust to be this source of strength is a suffering God, a God who moves towards those who despair, rather than abandoning them. The bleak world of war is not forsaken by God, it is suffered with God. Think of all those little crosses in their gardens of remembrance. The cross changes everything, and it’s the Cross which transforms Remembrance Sunday for us. A heart centred in God, and what God does for us and gives us, sees the truth. We learn to see the goodness in ourselves, God’s goodness, whatever we and others have done, and, through being loved, we discover a spirituality of freedom and transformation, and that silence of the dead, that silent place, is no longer so frightening, because with God the living and the dead are remembered, are now one. It is Christian to see a unity, one body, where others see division and barricades. At the heart of a requiem is the little prayer, Libera Me. Set me free. Set me free from the boundaries I have placed around my life. Set free those who died, those we have left imprisoned in time, although we owe them our lives of freedom. Let us set them free.
Despite our prayers and litanies, God does not always bring us Peace. Nobody moves through life untouched by pain, by evil, and by the sheer unexpected unfairness of life. But God does bring us His wisdom. God remembers, God is all creation, all knowledge. God’s wisdom is knowledge deepened by love. Coming to terms with life and death, making sense of our lives in the shadow of the senseless losses of the last hundred years, including the loss of over four hundred young soldiers in Afghanistan since that war began, is not gaining the satisfaction of knowing the right answer, it is about gaining wisdom, going deep into the collective memory of our people and seeing the Cross, which is God’s wisdom, shining there, helping us to understand a little better those urgent messages from the past which we read in the epistles, about suffering leading to patience, and patience to endurance, and endurance leading, not to despair, but to hope. We remember, we see everywhere signs of Incarnation. The more we remember, the more we love.
Remembrance Sunday is a profoundly Christian festival. At his Last Supper Jesus said, This is My Body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Do this out of love for me. Do this so I am part of you today, so that you can live with my life. We enter a silence of remembrance every time we attend communion. We learn there, from the way God does things, opening up His life for us to share it, to make space in our lives for others, including those who are forever silent, and including our enemies. There is no other way. The silence after the Last Post seems so final at the going down of the sun. But in the morning, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember them. And the more we remember, the more we love, and the greater their victory.
Sermon preached by Fr.Julian Browning