“Lest We forget” (Remembrance Sunday, Nov.6, 2016)
Micah 4.3; Isaiah 2.4
“Neither shall they learn war any more.” These words of the prophet Micah should haunt us. Keeping them in mind, I ask us to look briefly at the past, the present, and the future.
First, the past. I ask that we turn back to years of war, either on the basis of our own recollections, or the reminiscences of generations prior to our own, or on the basis of television documentaries that bring the drama of history into our own living rooms.
I retain the early memories of a war child. We lived on the second and third floors of a house in London, England. I recall the scary wail of air raid sirens and of rushing downstairs with my mother and baby sister. The ground floor tenant Mrs. James would usher us into her dining room where the four of us would huddle under a heavy oak table to avoid injury should our house be destroyed. Unlike many of our less fortunate neighbours, we escaped a direct hit although, on at least three occasions, the windows of our apartment were blown out from the bombing.
I look back with mixed emotions. I look back in anger – anger at the appalling inhumanity, the sheer obscenity, of war; anger at the wastefulness, and evil of it all.
I look back in sorrow – sorrow at the loss of millions of young lives, cut off at an age of unfulfilled promise; sorrow at the injured bodies and tormented minds of many who survived; sorrow at the broken hearts of the bereaved – the broken hearts of the parents, wives, lovers, sisters, brothers, children and friends of those who died. Those who died were not just members of the armed forces. There were also countless civilian casualties whose names do not appear on war memorials.
I look back with gratitude – gratitude for the sacrifice made by people of many nations who hoped to rid us all of oppressive tyranny and who hoped to create a more compassionate world.
I look back with pride – pride at the courage and selflessness of those who faced the horror of war and the consequences at great cost to themselves.
The watchword of Israel has been ‘Remember – lest we forget’. At each annual Passover, they retell their story as God’s people. They recall the six memories that˛ remain at the core of their faith history: the call of Abraham; the years of slavery in Egypt; the generations who wandered in the desert; the gift of the Law of Moses on Mt. Sinai; the years in Babylon; and the recovery of their promised land. When a Jewish family gathers around the table to celebrate the Passover Seder meal, young children ask the questions, “Why do we do this?”, and the answers are always, “Lest we forget.”
Imagine the jubilation and sense of peace when the Israelites eventually settled on the banks across the River Jordan. Within our own personal faith history, we too have memories like the realization of the promised land. We too can recall resurrection experiences. The day we spent with a friend we hadn’t seen in years; those moments when we felt ‘time stand still’ or we wished to remain some place forever.
But not all memories are sweet. Today we remember those who left their homes and loved ones to serve their country – some of them never to return. According to Scripture, God speaks to us through memories, even when those memories are painful.
My own memories confront me every time I see a dead infant washed up on a beach, or a frightened child being pulled out from the dust and rubble of the ruined city of Aleppo; each time I see the thousands of homeless refugee seeking sanctuary carrying whatever they can cram into a suitcase; each time I see soldiers, young and old, facing injury and sudden death in their desperate struggle to protect or recover the lost security and human dignity of others.
And so, I ask us to observe this present time. It is now 98 years since the lst World War ended, and there are none left with personal remembrances of it. It’s 71 years since the 2nd World War ended. 63 years since the Korean War. The world has never been a war-free zone. Today, war continues. 67 countries from within Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East are currently engaged in armed conflict.
We yearn for peace. We hold on in faith that divine light shines in our darkness, and that the darkness shall not overcome it. Sunday after Sunday, we gather to break bread on the Lord’s Day. Why? To obey his command. We do this to remember his death, to proclaim his resurrection, and to await his coming again in glory when his justice, compassion and peace is extended to all people. Our rallying call is “Thy kingdom come” as we follow in his way.
And so finally, I urge us to look toward the future. I do so with hope, as I trust all of us do. Our hope and fervent prayers are that this world of ours will never be engulfed in a global war again. That can only be achieved when we are prepared to promote tolerance and understanding in ways that can overturn nationalism, religious arrogance, racism and ethnic prejudice.
The voices of pre-Christian prophets sound down through the centuries, calling for a state of affairs not yet realized but which, please God, we shall attain – a time when the nations of this earth “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks,”, when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Carver 06.11.2016 The Church of the Holy Saviour, Waterloo