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Remembrance Sunday  
Nov 04, 2018
Christ Church, Niagara Falls

In 1914, a twenty-five-year-old South African named Percy Fitzpatrick, a former student at Oxford, was studying to be a lawyer in London. At the outbreak of war in July that year he returned home to Johannesburg and volunteered for military service. In September 1915, Fitzpatrick returned to England with the South African Heavy Artillery. He saw service at some of the most ferocious battles of the war, including the Battle of the Somme and, a century ago this year, the third Battle of Ypres. He commanded the 71st siege battery of the South African Heavy Artillery for around nine months. On 14th December 1917, FitzPatrick, now an acting Major, was nearing the railway station at Beaumetz in north east France to say farewell to two friends who were going on leave to England. A chance shell, fired at long range, struck. FitzPatrick was killed, aged 28. His father, Sir Percy FitzPatrick senior, a farmer and former Major of Johannesburg, had lost his eldest son. He planted memorial trees on his land, but he wanted to do more. He had been impressed by a one-minute silence kept in his local church in 1916 after the South African casualty list had been read out. The date and time of the Armistice – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – inspired Sir Percy FitzPatrick to suggest an annual commemoration. The suggestion was forwarded to the King, George V. The idea was promptly taken up and the King issued a ‘call to the nation’ at the beginning of November 1919 asking that, ‘for the brief space of two minutes, there be a complete suspension of all normal activities…to perpetuate the memory of the Great Deliverance, and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.’ The first minute’s silence is intended as a thanksgiving for those who have survived. The second minute is to remember the fallen. And so, on 11th November 1919, the Armistice Day silence was officially observed for the first time. We continue that tradition as fervently as ever nearly a century later, on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.
 
This annual act of remembrance gathers us as a civic community, nation and Commonwealth because, as well as the sacrifices of the past, we remember that men and women of today’s armed services continue to make extraordinary sacrifices – sometimes the ultimate sacrifice – in the cause of peace and for the preservation of freedom and justice. In recent years, UK forces have regularly been deployed in more than 80 countries around the world. But why do we gather for this act of remembrance and thanksgiving in church? There are hundreds of war memorials in the centres of villages, towns and cities. Why do we not gather there? Why do we gather in parish churches and cathedrals across the land to hear the Bible read, sing hymns, say prayers and endure sermons? There are many possible answers to that question and I’d like to offer you just two this morning.
 
The first concerns the stories that surround war. Remembrance Sunday gathers together countless human experiences of the bravery, sacrifice and anguish of war and violence. Remembrance Sunday gathers all those stories into churches such as this and places them in the context of the great Christian story of the violent suffering of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the hope of the resurrection. One of the reasons we can fit our human stories of the sacrifice and pain of war into the Christian story is because Christianity never glosses over the human suffering and loss that is the inevitable outcome of war. The Bible never fast forwards through the crucifixion to arrive swiftly and triumphantly at a cosy resurrection. The Christian story recognises the reality of human violence and our grief that, in this fallen world, it is sometimes necessary to fight and die for freedom and justice in defence of the vulnerable. Yet the Christian faith also teaches us that violence and sacrifice – the violence that crucified Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for our sin – that violence and sacrifice does not have the last word. It doesn’t end there. Our hope lies in something more – another kingdom, a new life. In the resurrection of Christ lies our hope that the death of our servicemen and women and the grief that follows are not the end. There is more, because God holds them in his life, in an eternal hope of redemption and resurrection. This isn’t wishful thinking – it’s been the testimony of the Church for 2000 years and the witness of this particular church for a hundred and fifty-three years. It’s the hope that has been carried into war in the prayers and hymns of soldiers, sailors and air personnel for generations. The Christian faith is real enough that it can be proclaimed and prayed even on the battlefield – especially on the battlefield, where we are most in need of God’s mercy.
 
Even more, the Christian faith proclaims that, despite the reality of conflict and self-sacrifice in the cause of justice and peace, war is not inevitable. It’s an intrusion into creation and human society that comes from the sin and darkness of human hearts. In our first lesson this morning, the prophet Micah, a book compiled in the sixth century BC amidst bloody conflicts surrounding Israel, writes ‘God shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ The sacrifices of the men and women of our armed services are not part of an inevitable and necessary pattern of war. We can say, in this Christian context, they died in the cause of a more basic peace ordained by God. They died not because war is inevitable, but so that war might be no more.
 
The second reason why we come to church for Remembrance Sunday concerns a basic and fundamental claim of the Christian faith: we are created and every human life is a unique and irreplaceable gift, and therefore of infinite value. In this Christian context, our lives are not simply the outcome of a blind evolutionary process or the product of our culture or whatever we happen to want or do. Our lives are a unique gift that finds its ultimate source in a giver – the mysterious source of all things we call God – who created and ordered the world. If we understand that our life is a gift from a giver, this should make all the difference in the world to how we live because it’s not ours to do with simply as we please. So we start with thanksgiving to God for who and what we are – that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, as the Bible puts it.[3] Understanding our life as a gift means that life has meaning in the way that any gift has meaning, as a bond between giver and recipient. We need to think carefully and seriously about what we do with the gift of our lives – how we treasure it, enjoy it and to what ends we live it.
 
The men and women whom we remember today, the millions killed in armed conflict, gave the gift of their lives in the cause of justice and peace. Each one of those lives is a unique and irreplaceable gift, so it is absolutely incumbent upon us today to be peacemakers and thereby ensure that they did not give their lives in vain. It’s also incumbent upon us as a nation never, ever to put our armed service men and women into harm’s when they might be asked to lay down the gift of their lives for anything but the most pressing and desperate of reasons.
 
And a thought particularly for the young cadets and students here this morning. The fallen men and women whom we remember with pride, thanksgiving and grief today, many of whom were about your age when they were killed, gave the gift of their lives to what they believed was the cause of peace, justice and goodness. If you receive your life as a gift from God with thankfulness, to what will you in turn give your life? For what cause, to what purpose, will you live? Will you live simply for your own gain, or, like those we remember today, will you live for the peace, well-being and flourishing of others, in the cause of truth and justice? Our contemporary culture offers us many opportunities to live shallow, selfish and trivial lives. In the light of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in giving the gift of their lives on the battlefield, today’s Remembrance Service reminds us that we are God’s gift and asks us ‘to what will you give the gift of your life? For what cause and in the name of what good?’ It’s the critical moral question we all face and it’s posed particularly powerfully here, today, as we remember the fallen in the peace of this great church.
 
In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the laying down of a life in freedom and peace, we see revealed the love of God who created us, gives us life and calls us into his kingdom of justice and peace. That hope has been carried onto the battlefield with the prayer that our lives may be given not for a foolish and vain politics, but for the good and peace of all humanity. Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus. In remembering those who gave their lives in the bitterness of war, in the giving of our lives in the service of one another, in remembering that every human life is a gift of God of infinite value to be nurtured and treasured, may we be blessed as peacemakers and defenders of the vulnerable who strive first for the kingdom of heaven and the justice of almighty God, to whom be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and in the ages of ages. Amen.

Collect of the Day

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.  Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

First Lesson

Micah 4: 1-5

 In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
   and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
   and no one shall make them afraid;
   for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk,
   each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
   for ever and ever.

Psalm

Psalm 145

I will extol you, my God and King,
   and bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
   and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
   and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendour of your majesty,
   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
   and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love

 Second Lesson 

Ephesians 2: 13-18

.But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 

The Holy Gospel 

John 15: 23-33

Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

 

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