Isaiah 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
3rd Sunday before Advent
12.11.17; St Barbara’s
Rev Charles Higgins
I wonder how you remember on a day like today?
It could be said that there are two types of silence. One type of silence happens when no one wants to communicate. It’s the frosty, thick and awkward silence that almost seems like a form of shouting. And history has shown us that this sort of silence is often a prelude to violence. Guns and bombs only begin after the talking has stopped.
However, the other sort of silence is calm, measured and mutual. It is the common recognition of something that matters more than words can express. The silence we have shared in today is this sort of silence. Our silence today acknowledges that in order to do some sort of justice to all the sacrifice and the shame of wars past and present we need to be silent together, especially in the midst of a pace of life that doesn’t have too much time for silence. We need to remember.
I have been thinking recently how exactly I remember on a day like today. I have no personal experience of war, yet so many times I have heard a story from my grandfather who was a child in wartime London. By chance, he and his family visited his own grandparents for the weekend. Had they not, they would have all been killed by a bomb that destroyed their house. As it goes, my Grandad remembers his first reaction being relief that he would no longer have to practise the piano, but it does give me pause today that had things gone differently that weekend, then I would not be here in the city of peace and reconciliation marking Remembrance Day.
I wonder how you remember today? You may have memories of active service; you may carry the memory of a loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice. You might be stretching your imaginations to try and grasp what such people must be feeling. And that is precisely why it is good we gather here today, different generations, from all walks of life, because we need to learn from one another what it is to remember and, above all, I believe that it is important that we enter into what God has to teach us about remembrance as well.
Very often we might think that remembering is all about the past, but both of the Bible readings that we’ve had this morning are about the future and I would sum them up with two words – blessing and hope. Blessing and hope. Our first reading from the book of Isaiah is an astounding promise of a future where God’s peace will be fully established on Earth. There will be a future, we’re told, where God will be exalted and compelling to all the nations of the world. They will flock into his presence and live life according to his priorities. And as a result, God will ‘judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many people… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. This promise was first addressed to the Jewish people, who were not only to use this promise as a basis for prayer to ask God to bring this future closer, but who also were called to be involved in bringing this future about. They were to be a blessing as a people. They were called to live peacefully, to be actively involved in reconciliation and the resolving of conflict. And so are we. Bishop Oscar Romero once said that ‘peace is the generous contribution of all to the good of all’. One of the main reasons we mark Remembrance Day each year as a nation is that we passionately believe that we should learn and pass on the lessons of war. Violence is never pleasant or glamorous, but cruel, unfair and ghastly. Peace must be a priority. That how this yearning for peace now should shape us live. We must trust that that is how Remembrance Day will be marked in fifty, one hundred, two hundred years’ time, otherwise what we do today is also in vain.
Quite apart from all the times the Bible tells us about God’s people being distracted and wandering away from their call to be a blessing to the nations and an instrument of peace, there were also times when suffering and oppression threatened to take away this glorious future entirely, not least in the horrors of the Holocaust that stood at the centre of the Second World War. Our second reading from 1 Thessalonians, a letter written by St Paul to a Church in Northern Greece 2000 years ago, talks about the reality of hope in the midst of persecution and pain, encouraging these Christians to hold onto God’s promises. First blessing, now hope.
Over the last a couple of weeks we as a community here at St Barbara’s have been particularly concentrating on this letter and what it teaches us about following Jesus. In our first week looking at the letter we considered the importance of prayer and of faith in God, love for one another and hope in the future and last week we explored how vital it is that we live with integrity in a world that often lacks it. This week, though, we turn to hope. We might well be tempted to think hope is much the same as a wish or a want about the future, nothing too certain, a bit up in the air, pie in the sky. However, I would define hope ‘something about the future that affects the way live in the present’. For St Paul, Christian hope is based solidly on the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to new life. It is the centre of everything and it was particularly relevant for these Christians in Northern Greece as prominent members of the early Christian community were beginning to die. They were caught in the midst of grief, just as we may well be as we remember today. Yet, as they grieve, as they honour the dead, they are encouraged to live with hope because Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that death will never be the end. One day, Jesus has promised to return and live with us forever. The Bible talks about that future being one without pain, death, sickness or war.
Remembering is not all about the past. It involves the past, the present and the future. We recall the past with honour, with thankfulness, but also with regret for the violence it has precipitated, just as the Jewish people looked back to oppression and the early Christians were confronted with the reality of persecution and death. We understand the importance of living in the present as people of hope who bring the blessing of peace to the places and people around us and we know that we are called to have a role in shaping a future full of promise.
These passages from the Bible are much more than instructions on good ways to live or glimmers of nice things to hope for. They are promises from a God of blessing, a God of hope and a God of peace. Amen.