St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
Ordinarily, today we would have been attending to the cycle of readings appointed for Trinity XXIV in our church calendar.
But today is not an ordinary day.
Today is November 11, a day in our civic calendar that is given over to ceremonies and prayers in remembrance of the war dead.
We will be engaging in such a ceremony at the end of our service.
But this November 11 is also the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and so it seemed good and right that we should interrupt our cycle of readings, and attend to the readings assigned for services for peace.
I want to begin this morning by discharging my duty and responsibility to you on this Remembrance Sunday to announce and declare to you the good news that the war is over.
The war is over, and the much anticipated day heralded by the prophet Micah,
“when the peoples shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; “
that day, has in fact, arrived.
If this isn’t good news, I don’t know what is.
I am getting puzzled and skeptical looks from you.
The First World War may be over, but the world is still very much at war: in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East, and in the Americas. All told there are currently some 68 countries and some 811 militia, guerilla, terrorist, separatist, anarchic groups around the world involved in armed conflict. Canada is involved in no less than 8 operations and deployments overseas in the Caribbean, in Central and South America, Norway, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Kosovo, and Mali.
How can I say that the war is over? Which one?
And as for nations beating their swords into ploughshares, according to conservative estimates, the value ofthe global trade in arms is the neighborhood of 88 billion dollars.
88 billion buys a lot of farm equipment.
The day prophesied by Micah seems to be still a long, long way off.
So what on earth am I talking about?
What I am talking about is what St. Paul wrote about in the second chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians, where it says,
“For he (that is Jesus) is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Four times in this passage, Paul uses the word “peace” to describe both the content of the message of Jesus Christ, and the outcome and result of His coming: He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between God and Man, and has reconciled us all in one body through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end and making peace.
In other words, the war is over.
We can lower our weapons, and go home, and to be at peace: to be at peace with ourselves, and with our lives, to be at peace with our spouses and our parents and our siblings and our children, to be at peace with our friends, and to be at peace with our enemies, and most importantly to be at peace with God.
St. Seraphim of Sarov, the great 19th century Russian saint wrote, “Acquire the spirit of peace, and thousands around you will be saved.”
This is why this morning, after we rehearse the saving events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming, I will declare to you: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” And you will reply, “And with thy Spirit” for through Him we both have access in One Spirit to the Father.
In other words, the war is over.
So why one earth do we still have so much fighting?
I can only make sense of this by saying that people either haven’t heard the message of peace concerning Jesus Christ, or if they have heard it do not believe it, or simply disobey it.
Our situation is not unlike that of the small group ofJapanese soldiers who, during the Second World War, were stationed in the jungles of South East Asia, who didn’t get the message concerning the unconditional surrender until, are you ready for this…1974. For over 30 years these soldiers had been fighting a war that had long since come to an end.
So it is with the world today.
All of which is to say, before the Prime Minister sends troops into a war zone, shouldn’t he first ask be asking the Church to volunteer some preachers and evangelists?
It has worked before. St. Paul writes of his own conversion, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1. 13)
We are happy to send people to their deaths in defence of our country.
What about sending some Christians to their deaths in defence of the Gospel?
There are obviously other factors that we need to reckon with in trying to understand our current troubles.
Chris Hedges, in a book entitled War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, tries to explain how he, as a war correspondent for the New York Times, arrived at a point in his life where he literally could not live without war. He wrote,
The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by myth makers—historians, war correspondents, film makers, novelists, and the state—all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over….The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airways. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble…
But at what price?
The Roman Catholic theologian Robert Meaghen spent some years interviewing soldiers, and noted the sad phenomenon of an epidemic of suicide among war veterans. In his book, “Killing From the Inside Out,” he quotes the sad note left by one soldier for his mother:
Mom, I am so sorry. My life has been hell since March 2003 when I was part of the Iraq invasion. . . . I am freeing myself from the desert once and for all. . . . I am not a good person. I have done bad things. I have taken lives. Now it’s time to take mine.
In seeking to answer the question, what it is that leads soldiers to overcome that natural human loathing to kill another person, David Grossman, in his Book “On Killing” suggests that it is not the force of self-preservation but the power of a form of intimacy, that is, the accountability soldiers feel with their comrades. As another writer observes, “in military writings on unit cohesion, one consistently finds the assertion that the bonds combat soldiers form with one another are stronger than the bonds most men have with their wives…”
All of which is to say, part of the problem of war is the problem of finding an alternative to war.
In the absence of war where and how will we have our legitimate needs met to have purpose, meaning, and a reason for living?
Where and how will we have the opportunity to rise above the shallowness and triviality of our lives, and experience deep intimacy with another human being that does not require me to kill another person?
I want to suggest to you one such alternative. It is called worship.
Worship, like war, is all about offering sacrifice. But the sacrifice we offer is the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise for the One who whose sacrifice of Himself on the Cross has taken away the sin of the world, and rendered all further sacrifice, including the sacrifices of war, unnecessary.
This morning as we remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and as we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we will then offer ourselves, our souls, and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and life giving sacrifice…
There is nothing shallow and trivia] about this.
This morning we might also recall that the word “sacrament” was a word that Church borrowed from the Roman military, which described the holy oath Roman soldiers made before talking to the field of battle, to acknowledge the Emperor as savior and lord. This is exactly the holy oath which Christians make to Jesus Christ in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
So it is that in service of Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer, the priest declares, “We receive this person into the congregation of Christ’s flock, and do sign her with the sign of the Cross, in token hereafter she shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto her life’s end.”
There is nothing trivial and superficial about this.
What do you think are the possibilities for developing cohesive bonds of intimacy among the soldiers of your unit? I think there the possibilities are great. But you need to understand while the one war is over, another war, a different war, and a far more serious war, has just begun.