Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Remembrance
November 14, 2010, 4:23 pm
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A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 14th November 2010

“The Lord says: my plans for you are peace and not disaster; when you call to me, I will listen to you, and I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.”

These words from today’s entrance antiphon are particularly well-chosen for this Sunday, which we keep as Remembrance Sunday. On a day when we remember the terrible cost of war, it is right that we should meditate on the nature of peace, and see it as a gift from God, and not something that can be achieved solely by human efforts. At the end of this Mass, we shall gather around the War Memorial, and think particularly of those from this parish and this community who gave their lives in the course of the two World Wars of the last century. Increasingly, of course, it is only the older of us who have any personal recollection even of the Second World War, and of those who went away to serve their country and did not come back.

As we look at today’s world, we see many places, torn apart by the inability of human beings to find a peaceful solution to their differences. When, and how, will it all end? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that all this is inevitable. Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; but, “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen, but the end is not so soon.”

One of the blessings and curses of being human is the power of memory. As Christians, we remember all the gifts and graces God has bestowed on us- as the old prayer says, we give thanks for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. Above all, we celebrate this Eucharist, this Mass, in memory of Jesus: “Do this, in remembrance of me.” But memory can be a curse, if we dwell on old injuries and resentments, harbouring grudges and letting them fester. How much misery has been caused, over the centuries, because people could not let go of their hatreds and animosities. When we remember, we need to ask our Father to heal our memories, to bring closure to the things that separate us from one another.

As I grow older, I am more and more convinced of the value of our remembering, each year, the cost of war in human life and human suffering. Remembering the cost, and asking ourselves some hard questions about it. It is a brute fact (and “brute” is the right word) that the strong can impose their will upon the weak. Sometimes the weak, by joining together, can defend themselves against the strong. That is fact.

But one of the most important aspects of being human, of distancing ourselves from brute animals, is the ability to distinguish between what is, and what ought to be. It is reported that when Winston Churchill was shown film of the results of the British bombing of Dresden, he wept and said, “Are we beasts, that we do such things?” Human beings are not just rational animals (as the saying is), but moral animals. We know the difference between right and wrong. That is why we believe that human relationships should not be governed by might, but by right. The power do to something is not the same as the right to do it. And even the right to do something, absolutely speaking, does not mean that it is wise or beneficial to use power alone to enforce it.

Without getting involved in the rights and wrongs of particular conflicts- let alone questioning anyone’s motives- we see daily the evidence that war brings many evils, horrendous suffering. Our duty as Christians is to lay all this before our heavenly Father, asking him to pity and pardon suffering humanity. As human beings, we ask ourselves, “Is there no other way?” As Christians, we confidently answer, “Yes, there is.” Confidently means “with faith”. We believe that our Creator has revealed himself uniquely and definitively in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to reconcile human beings to God, and also to one another. The root of separation from God and from each other is self-will, selfishness. The root of reconciliation is the renunciation of self-will in favour of God’s will; and God’s will is expressed in the words of Jesus: “A new commandment I give you. Love one another, as I have loved you.”

If we human beings love one another, we will not want to hurt one another. To love is to desire the welfare of another, to find our happiness in their well-being. Jesus taught us to love even our enemies, even those who do not love us, who want to harm us, and who actually do harm us. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that this is easy, or that it is optional. It is very hard.

Jesus is our model. He came to serve, not to be served. He came to suffer, not to inflict suffering. In a democracy it is our right, as citizens who are Christians, to draw attention to his example, to follow it ourselves, and to commend it to others. Therefore we ask God to give wisdom to all in authority; and to direct this and every nation in the ways of justice and of peace.

On this Day of Remembrance, we need to pour out our prayer to God, that he will give us peace. “The Lord says: my plans for you are peace and not disaster; when you call to me, I will listen to you, and I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.” We are all exiles from God’s kingdom; may he soon bring us all home.

 

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