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Homily - 32nd Sunday – Year A
Mike Waring - Lay Reader
‘Those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise’
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
South of the Line, inland from far Durban,
A mouldering soldier lies - your countryman.
Awry and doubled up are his gray bones,
And on the breeze his puzzled phantom moans
Nightly to clear Canopus: "I would know
By whom and when the All-Earth-gladdening Law
Of Peace, brought in by that Man Crucified,
Was ruled to be inept, and set aside?
And what of logic or of truth appears
In tacking 'Anno Domini' to the years?
Near twenty-hundred livened thus have hied,
But tarries yet the Cause for which He died.
That was Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘A Christmas Ghost Story’, and though it was actually written at the end of the nineteenth century during the Boer War I think it captures something important for us as Christians, especially important today on Remembrance Sunday.
Hardy, who shall we say had a difficult relationship with religion, is, by calling to mind the message of the angels on that first Christmas: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’ questioning the veracity of the message. I think the question is, however, a good one for us to contemplate.
The appalling dichotomy of war is that though it is, in itself, evil, it is, to a significant extent, carried out by good people, people who do look for peace on earth and goodwill to all. As Christians we need to be aware of this dichotomy and the difficulties it can engender, especially today as we remember those who lost their lives in war.
We do not glorify war, war is indeed the ultimate failure of the human condition, but we do remember those good men and women who made a choice of conscience, a choice between evils. The awful irony is that these men and women made the choice to fight in a war, rightly or wrongly, because they saw it as the best way to protect freedom, peace and goodwill. Hindsight is a wonderful thing in the evaluation of history but we must never allow it to devalue the choice those men and women had to make, the choice that led many of them to make the final sacrifice of their lives.
We also of course remember all those who had no direct choice, those caught up in the horror of war through happenstance or the accident of birth. The wars of the twentieth century in particular saw the deaths of untold millions of non-combatants, of those powerless to escape the tides of history as it washed over them.
We must not allow time or distance to diminish their loss. All too many of them are known only to God but yet we have a duty to remember them, to remember what happened, to imagine as best we can their suffering and pain and to not let the world forget.
Not long ago I was re-watching that classic 50’s film The Dambusters. Even though I have watched this film a goodly number of times the final scene still gets to me. It is the morning after the raid and Barnes Wallis is talking to Guy Gibson, who led the raid.
Barnes Wallis: Is it true? All those fellows lost?
Gibson: Only two aircraft went down in the attacks. That was Hopgood's over the Moehne and Maudsley's at the Eder. Astell got it soon after crossing the coast. And Dinghy Young was shot down over the sea, on his way home. The rest we don't know about. They've been calling them since midnight, but they haven't answered. The flak was bad, worse than I expected.
Barnes Wallis: Fifty-six men... If I'd known it was going to be like this, I'd never have started it.
Gibson: Now you mustn't think that way. If all these fellows had known from the beginning they wouldn't be coming back they would have gone for it just the same. There isn't a single one of them that would have dropped out. I knew them all. I know that's true. Look, you've had a worse night than any of us. Why don't you find the doctor and ask for one of his sleeping pills?
Barnes Wallis: Aren't you going to turn in, Gibby?
Gibson: No, I... I have to write some letters first. If all these fellows had known from the beginning they wouldn't be coming back they would have gone for it just the same.”
We must always remember all those who have been blighted by war but today we particularly remember those men and women from this place who went for it just the same, who went for it knowing that they could well be called upon to make the final sacrifice. Those men and women who gave what Abraham Lincoln so poignantly called ‘the last full measure of devotion’.
Today we too have to write some letters, letters not to bereaved loved ones but to our Father in heaven. Our letters are prayers, prayers for the souls of those who have lost their lives in the caldron of war, prayers that their sacrifice was not in vain, prayers that they may be amongst those who will be ‘the first to rise’ with Christ.
And finally to return to the question posed in Hardy’s poem. Two thousand years may have passed since Christ died on the cross, but time does not nullify the message he brought. The message of peace has not been set aside.
And so, as we remember and pray for the war dead, we pray that the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace and goodwill to all, might yet be the striving and hope of all humanity.