Thursday, 6 November 2008

Remembrance Sunday Sermon.

Without further ado, here is my sermon for this Sunday.

This day has become a jumbled, difficult day. In Manchester and at Cenotaphs around the country, a two minutes silence is being kept for the fallen. Wreaths are being laid and the last post is played. We, here, are keeping a requiem Mass, which seems in keeping with the mood of the Nation. We have laid our wreath and will lay it again at the end of Mass by the war memorial which, in case you have never looked at it carefully, shows Christ the King offering an infantryman the crown of life, in front of this Church. We do not exchange the peace, by tradition at a requiem and the observant may have noticed a lack of incense which will last until the offertory. We are dressed in black and we rightfully mourn.

There is the first part. The second part is that we are here not only to mourn the dead, for that can be done anywhere and at any time. We are not here only to pray for the fallen of wars, for both sides do that, in the end, death is death and we all mourn the dead because they are all loved. Wars go on, day in day out, all over the world, Zimbabwe starves and the Congo is torn apart. Gangs clash in South London estates and young men are shot in Manchester. There is much to mourn. Yet today we gather to celebrate the Mass together and celebrate is the right word to use, for we gather to see Christ becoming present on our altar and to receive Him into our own bodies. We come here in the midst of strife to give thanks that the dead have gone to God and that He comes to us here. We come to the Holy place as our forebears the Jewish people did and as the early Christians did, to encounter God and to entrust ourselves and the world to His care.

While we are here, we hear some extraordinary things. The first reading, from Wisdom, instructed the Israelites in the life to come, that death was not the end, the mercy of God reaches out through the ages to take the souls of His people back to him. The Psalm echoes the joy inherent in going to the Father, we rejoiced when we heard them say ‘let us go to God’s house’ and from that lofty vantage point, peace is offered as a blessing and a wish for the earth. The kingdom of heaven is one of peace and how far are we from that ideal on earth. We see weapons being stockpiled around us, we see people killed in war, nations starving, peoples subjugated and violated, men and women and children born and living and dying in places with no hope, no sanitation, no water and no food and we come to the temple of God, to this Church, to lay all our sadness all our grief, at the foot of His altar, dressed in black today, unlike next week when we shall come giving thanks for His Saint Hilda.

How do we make sense of all this in our lives? How do we reconcile the death and the murder, the torture and the poverty, with the coming of God and the Morningstar which gives light to the world? We could do worse that to learn from John, who we see in our beautiful statue over there, who wrote today’s Gospel and who inspired the second reading from the book of revelation. John did not fit in well in this world. He was the only apostle not to be martyred, the only evangelist to give us a sublime poem instead of the traditional birth narrative of Jesus. He writes of the revelation and the coming of the heavenly city as a man who’s home, the historical Jerusalem, has been destroyed, the temple has been destroyed, the home of God on earth and he has followed the Christ to his death and still believes, this man who is no longer at home in any city of his culture, he sees a new heaven and a new earth. Nothing is lost by the destruction of the city and the persecution of his peoples, indeed everything is gained, everything is made new, finally, once and for all peoples, as it was made new for Lazarus and his family. But there is no need for anymore resurrections, any more Lazarus’s, the last has gone and the new city is upon us, not the Reich Pilate stands for, established through violence, the force of arms and imperial hegemony; but the kingdom of Jesus that is ‘not from this world' but is based on the truth he has come to bear witness to. There is no meeting between these two cities, and there is never any doubt as to the outcome in Jesus' case. He dies as the victim of what human beings do to one another without end. Yet for St John, death is Jesus' destiny. It is not quite as we had thought that Jesus is the helpless victim. Far from it. It is rather that death is his chosen path. He is in control throughout. He has power to lay down his life, he says, and power to take it up again. Indeed, the person on trial when Pilate sentences Jesus is not Jesus at all. It's Pilate, and the world-order he represents. And Jesus' decision to walk the path of suffering and embrace death is precisely the source of his authority and his kingship. It is how he bears witness to the truth. Which is why, at the cross, he is able to cry out in triumph, ‘it is accomplished!' This is how the one sitting on the throne can say ‘I will give water from the well of life to anyone who is thirsty and I will be his God and he will be my child’. The covenant is restored; the bond between humanity and God is made afresh once more and for all time.

If we can be like Martha, then the problem of this day is over. If we can say ‘yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, the one who was to come into this world’ when the body and blood of Christ come down on our altars in the outward form of bread and wine then all the terror, war and death of this world is reconciled to the Lord, for we believe the promise of His glory and His mercy, that we will have life with Him when we have passed our time on this world, bearing witness to his holy name, through hard times and good. ‘Look, here God loves among mankind, they will be his people and he will be their God and he will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past is gone.’ ‘Do you believe this?’

Blessed be God and blessed be His most holy Name, for he has visited His people and redeemed them. We are saved by the blood of the Lamb and the sacrifice we make together this evening and every time we come together as God’s people. Do not be afraid, have faith, know that you will come home one day and then you will see things as they truly are. We have been called by name and we belong to God. Let us pray that we may be worthy of that calling. The history of salvation has come to this day, in this time, in this church. Rejoice and be glad that we are but a thin veil away from our loved ones and that the world has been saved by the death and resurrection of the Son of Man.