Psalm 70, Wisdom 6: 12-16 or Amos 5: 18-24, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18, Matthew 25: 1-13
Our keeping of Remembrance Sunday this year is particularly poignant, as it comes in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, in which so many lives have been lost world-wide. In the UK alone we are heading towards a figure soon of 50,000 who will have died from or as a result of Covid-19 this year. As a nation, as a world, we are plunged into deep grief.
Today on Remembrance Sunday here as in many other Commonwealth and other countries in the world we observe a day to commemorate, socially distanced this year, the contribution of British and Commonwealth and other military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and in all later conflicts. We especially remember with thanks those who made the greatest possible sacrifice by giving their lives in war. The millions who were killed live on in our memories as we commemorate them, and we are mindful of the debt we owe them for the freedoms we enjoy in our own country today.
Remembrance Sunday is always held on the Sunday nearest to 11th November, Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of hostilities in the first World War at 11am in 1918 – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. 11th November is also St Martin’s Day – the 4th century soldier turned saint, who while on duty on a bitterly cold night took his sword and, after cutting his soldier’s cloak in two, gave half of his cloak to a beggar on the roadside. Later that night Martin dreamed that he had given half of his soldier’s cloak to Christ.
This morning across the UK Remembrance Sunday is being marked by outside ceremonies at local memorials in many cities, towns and villages, attended by civic dignitaries, ex-service men and women, members of the local armed forces regular and reserve units, military cadet forces and youth organisations. But this year the numbers attending such memorial ceremonies are being scaled down. Wreaths of remembrance poppies this morning are being laid at the memorials and the two minutes’ silence observed at 11am. The national ceremony will be held at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
War is always a terrible event, and it is always tragic when negotiations for peace break down and war erupts in their place between nations. The First World War poet Wilfred Owen wrote eloquently of the horrors of war. Tragically, he was killed in the very last week of the war. So many families up and down our land will have memories and stories of their relatives and loved ones who were killed in war. Some years ago, when I was Associate Chaplain in the residential care home on my Community’s site in Oxford, I had the privilege of accompanying a retired bishop in his death and dying. He had been a soldier before he was called to serve in the Church. In the conflicts of the Middle East he once had a very narrow escape when he left the King David Hotel where he had been staying in Jerusalem just half an hour before it was blown up in July 1946. The hotel had been the Headquarters of the British armed forces in Palestine and Transjordan.
I, and those younger than myself in this country, belong to generations that are privileged never to have known armed conflict on their own soil. Yet wars and hostilities still rage on our planet. And there is the horror of terrorism. Outrageous acts of terrorism occur all too frequently in the cities of our world, and notably in recent years across Europe. Sometimes these appalling acts are carried out by people who are often described as “lone wolf madmen”. But many such acts have been committed by organisations such as ISIS, with the deliberate intention of bringing horror and devastation to civilised society.
It can be hard to reconcile the brutal reality of war and evil and suffering and death with belief in a God of Love. But God in Christ is not silent on the subject of war. The gospel accounts testify to Jesus saying:
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately”.
Jesus goes on to speak of how such disastrous times will be an opportunity for the disciples to testify to their faith. He commends endurance.
Our world today exists in very troubled times. The world-wide political scene is seriously unsettled. A global pandemic continues to spread. Systemic racial discrimination is prevalent. Our planet is threatened by global warming. The possibility and threat of nuclear warfare has not gone away. At such times it is very important that we nurture our Christian hope. Hope is a fundamental theological virtue for the Christian believer. No matter how hard or threatening things become, it is imperative that we continue to live in hope. The centre of the Christian message is a story of hope. God in Christ was crucified – but God raised Jesus from the dead. What was true for Jesus, can be true also for us. In our first reading for today from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes of Christian hope. Concerning the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul writes of their loved ones who have died. He does not want the grief of those to whom he writes to be without hope. For just as Jesus died and rose again, so their departed loved ones live on in the eternal love of God.
In our gospel passage today from Matthew, Jesus gives us the parable of the ten bridesmaids. As so often in his parables, Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven. The bridegroom represents Jesus who will one day return to the earth. The point of the parable is, will we his followers be ready for him when he comes? And while we still await his second coming, are we ready to receive him in his coming to us in our daily lives? Do we recognise signs of his presence? Will we be alert like the five wise bridesmaids who brought the oil of their good works with them, or will we be like the five foolish bridesmaids who failed to do so? Jesus commends us all to:
“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour”.
On this Remembrance Sunday, as we remember all those who gave their lives in war, may we be confident that they too live on not only in our memories but that they are also enfolded eternally in the love of God. May we be alert and watchful, knowing that Jesus our Lord accompanies us. And may we live with hope in our hearts, knowing that whatever our challenges and dangers and griefs may be, that God’s love in Christ will sustain us all to the end.
Rev Sister Margaret Anne ASSP