Tuesday, 4 November 2008

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 2008


2 Timothy 2:8-13

Today, probably in greater numbers than we have seen for many years, men and women, girls and boys are gathering to remember.

Most of them gather to remember history, and those who made history: for the majority of people, the stories of the two world wars are stories about other people who lived in other times. But for many of you here, it is far more personal. They are not stories about other people who lived in other times. They are stories about those you dearly loved, who were to you husbands and wives, fiancées and sweethearts, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, comrades and colleagues. And we give thanks to God for them and we honour them - as we give thanks to God for you and honour you.

But people are also gathering to remember those who fight today, and especially those who serve in military and civilian capacities, who have been wounded – physically or emotionally - or who have even given their lives, in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo and other parts of the world. This is above politics. Irrespective of whether we think a particular war is justified, these men and women, represented here by those of you from RAF Honington and USAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall, have answered the call of their country in being willing to lay down their lives for others. And we honour you and them.

So in villages, towns and cities, people have gathered round memorials to remember and honour such people. And many of those memorials, particularly those erected after the First World War, are in the shape of simple stone crosses.

And that is so very appropriate.

It is the cross that is the symbol, that tells the story of the supreme act of courage and self-sacrificial love; and it is the cross that is the symbol, that tells the story of our ultimate hope.

The cross tells the story of a man, Jesus Christ, who lived 2000 years ago, who chose to go through the most awful suffering in obedience to his Father God, and to give his life so that men and women could find forgiveness, reconciliation with God - peace with God, and new life.

It is the story of Jesus and the cross that has shaped the life of individuals and of our nation. It is the story of Jesus and the cross which has given us a framework for reflecting on events, which helps us to see them in true perspective. It is the story of Jesus and the cross which is our living example of all that is good and true, of virtue.

We get nervous of the person who triumphs by trampling over others.
We value those who lay down their life for their friends.
Why? Because virtue for us comes in the shape of a cross.

We are uneasy about the person who fights simply because they hate the enemy, or because they want revenge.
We value those who are prepared to give their lives for love of comrades or families or country.
Why? Because virtue for us comes in the shape of a cross.

The heroes of the Greeks and the Romans and Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were supermen trampling down their enemies. When Alison and myself visited Volgograd, known to us as Stalingrad, we saw the colossal monument to the Soviet fighters. It is of the motherland portrayed as a female warrior, brandishing a sword, calling her children to the fight, and crushing all who stand in her way.

Our heroes are far less spectacular, but far more extraordinary. They are not men trampling over others, but men like Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher who threw himself on a grenade in order to save the lives of his comrades. They are men and women who are willing to sacrifice themselves in order that others may live.
Why? Because virtue for us comes in the shape of a cross.

And the story of the cross is also a story that gives hope when all hope is gone. On the first Good Friday, when they crucified Jesus Christ, it seemed that lies, evil and death had won. It seemed that self sacrifice and love had been crushed.

But they hadn't: three days later God brought Jesus Christ back from the dead. And his followers touched him and ate with him - and history was changed.
And whatever happens, however bad it gets, however deep we sink, the cross tells us of a God who brings hope out of despair and life out of death.

We love stories when people snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat: when people win world championships on the last bend of the last lap of the last race. Well God is the one who snatched ultimate victory out of what seemed ultimate defeat. He gives us hope when all hope is gone. Desmond Tutu said of the bible: 'Don't give up! Don't despair. I've read the end. It's OK. We win!'


 

War memorials have come in many shapes: statues, stones, flames, walls, obelisks, even a doughnut(s)! I do understand in these days of aggressive secularism why modern memorials avoid the shape of the cross. I understand but I fear. The stone cross in the centre of the community was a symbol that the story of Jesus and the cross was somewhere, even if only nominally, at the centre of our nation.

But today there is no story at the centre of our national life. We honour courage and virtue, but we are in danger of losing the understanding of what courage and virtue really is.

So I finish with a plea and a challenge.

A plea that we do not allow the story of the cross - whether we personally believe it or not - to become more and more sidelined by the stories that glorify celebrity, or money, or possessions (the advertisements tell their own story), or power. For the sake of our children, and of our children's children, do not exchange - literally or metaphorically - the cross for something beautiful but meaningless or for a statue to superman.

And a challenge: to each one of us personally: to make this story of the cross, the Easter story, the central story in our own lives. This is what it means to, 'Remember Jesus Christ'. It is Jesus Christ, crucified but risen, who sets us free to love others so that we are prepared to suffer for their sake, and who gives us the hope of eternal glory.

And it is his story, the story of the cross and resurrection, that gives focus and meaning to our remembering of those who have laid down their lives - whether long ago or more recently - for the sake of others.


 

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