Canon Missioner - Revd Canon Jay Colwill
Winston Churchill said this: on the 10th November 1942, following the victory at El Alamein, North Africa. 'Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning'.
The battle was costly, but it was a turning point in the second world war. The Eighth Army had 13,560 casualties, 58 percent of the casualties were British, whilst the other 42% allied nationals were Australian, New Zealanders, South African, and Indian. In addition to this, many Italian and German soldiers lost their lives as well as Eygptian nationals. This was not the beginning of the end of the Second World War. It was, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
War is never simply an end in itself, or shouldn't be. War, when it is just, and a necessary response to an overwhelming evil, fought to establish something new, liberating, empowering. To do this, those who oversee battle plans must keep the end in view. So, some 77 years to day after Churchill’s address, as we quite properly commemorate those who gave their lives in war, we also remember those still affected by conflict, and we pray for peace; how can we remember the past and look forward to the future?
Drawing from our three Bible readings, I want to make 3 brief reflections.
The first one comes from the book of Job.
“Struggle in this life is not all there is”
19.25: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
19:26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,
You may know these words from Handel’s Messiah. Yet, they are Job's cry of faith in the midst of great suffering. Yet, In spite of this suffering, he put his eternal trust in God in spite it all that he experienced.
Whatever our circumstances, whether in war, or peacetime, a faith in the God of eternity reminds us that this life is not all that there is. Where do you place your hope? In your family, your pension fund, the stock market, your health, your work? We know none of these are certain, all temporary. A sure hope is founded on the one who passed through death to open the doorway to eternal life. Job, although he lived before Christ. (In fact some scholars think that Job is one of the earliest books written in the Bible.) Yet, he has a vision of resurrection life.
Another phrase, often associated with war and military sacrifice is actually the words of Jesus.
‘greater love have no man than himself, but to lay down his life for his friends’, He laid down his life so that we could be friends with God. Putting our faith and hope in him, at times of turmoil is the surest place for hope in troubled times.
“This present darkness is not all there is”
Our second reflection comes from Paul writing to the Thessalonians:
We remember the past and look forward to the future by: ‘get on with doing good’ (2 Thess 2.17)
2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,
2:17 comfort your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.
People often think that a faith in eternal life means that we don't care about the present. St. Paul won't have any of this. In fact in this 2nd letter, where he speaks in a most detailed (and sometimes confusing) way about the end times. He is clear, the church (and each individual Christian) should get on with serving and helping society for the better. And the church has a track record in this. The first military nurse, and founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale had a profound devotion to Christ. William Wilberforce, the social reformer, fought for the freedom of slaves (with many others) borne out of his Christian faith. Today, Churches in the U.K.-because of their faith conviction- will feed over 100,000 hungry people, provide more night shelters for the homeless and debt counselling to the financially struggling than any other agency in this land. As Canon Missioner to the Bishop of Southwark, I am proud of the service so many Christians offer across this diocese- not least in this our cathedral. Today, Christian ministers across this nation will be serving the whole of the society, people of all faiths and none, by enabling acts of remembrance.
An eternal perspective means we get on with doing good, here on earth, because of our belief in heaven, not in spite of it!
How will you orientate your life, by 'getting on and doing good.'?
The sacrifice of thousands led us to know democratic freedom. The sacrifice of God's Son won us freedom and eternity with God. How will you live in the light of this? How will your life be different tomorrow than it is today because of this truth? If you want to talk through how you can use your gifts, time, and talents in the service of Christ, talk to me about it after the service.
Finally, in Jesus reminds us: we remember the past, and look forward to the future.
: “Don’t get drawn into pointless arguments”
Some of the religious elite wanted to argue with Jesus about eternity. They wanted to pose faintly ludicrous academic scenarios in order to try and catch him out. Jesus wasn't having any of it! He would not let himself get bogged down in intellectual arguments when people had no interest in having a change of mind. Jesus knew that he had a distinct calling. He knew the end from the beginning and would not be diverted from his calling. We too, can be clear in our calling- to understand who we are in Christ; to understand who are called to be; to understand that life is just the end of the beginning. With this clarity of call and vocation, we don't need to be distracted by the minutiae. You can know a new purpose and new hope.
Over the coming months, for various reasons, you might get drawn into pointless arguments. I can’t imagine why that would be. Some people like to argue for arguments sake. Sometimes, and the Holy Spirit will guide you if you ask Him- you need to take the higher ground and not get bogged down in the trench warfare of pointless argument.
Three brief reflections this Remembrance Sunday.
Jesus’ response encourages us, not to get drawn into pointless arguments.
Paul reminds us to ‘keep on doing good’ because this life is preparation for eternity.
Job reminds us that in the midst of darkness and struggle; this life is not all there is:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,
Remembrance Sunday is vital day in our church year.
We look back and give thanks for the dedication, sacrifice and service of many. We look forward with renewed hope and determination to live for the Prince of Peace: Jesus Christ.
For Jesus offers a peace in this life, and assurance of life in the next. His death and resurrection was truly in the words of Winston Churchill; the end of the beginning- that we can start afresh. May you, and those who you pray for know that deep truth this Remembrance Sunday and for evermore. AMEN.