I should have been leading the Eucharist at Burnham Abbey this morning. Sadly I was unable to with the new lockdown. Thanks to Bill Birmingham, LLM in Langley for his wonderful sermon from which I have borrowed.
Burnham Abbey – Remembrance Sunday
November 8th, 2020
1 Thessalonians 4:13-end
Once again, we come together on this Remembrance Sunday to rightly remember those who gave their lives for this nation over the last 100 hundred years. It is now 75 years since the end of the 2nd World War. To have fought in it, someone must be at least in their late 90s and in a couple of years or so there will be no-one left who was a combatant in that war. Due to Covid, our lives and our economy are probably the worst since the end of the 2nd World War. The Coronavirus is the worst since the Spanish flu virus which in 1918-1919 killed more than died in the trenches.
This year our commemoration of both wars has inevitably been curtailed. Although the ceremony at the Cenotaph takes place, the march past of veterans and their families has had to be cancelled. Services and ceremonies at War Memorials up and down the country have had to be reduced in scope and moved online.
As part of what you might call ‘historical research’ for today, I watched the film ‘1917’. The premise of the film is the harrowing tale of two young soldiers sent to the front-line with a message to stop an impending British advance that would have resulted in disaster. The film shows their journey through the trenches, no-man’s land and many other horrors – you will have to watch for yourselves! The reason they are sent on this perilous journey is because the retreating Germans had cut the phone line and there was no other way to relay the message to the front.
I did have to stop and contemplate this! There was only one way to get the message delivered. Life and limb were risked getting it there. I am glad to live in a world where there is more than one way to get a message across. Some might argue there are now too many ways to communicate and we are not any better for it. I know that having moved everything online isn’t ideal. Some people will not be able to participate and it isn’t as good as meeting face to face. However, we need to hold the tension that we are doing the best we can, given the circumstances.
Just as men and women gave their lives during the wars and conflicts of the last century, or, if they survived, had been prepared to, so this year we have seen men and women in the NHS, care homes and other key jobs prepared to put their lives in jeopardy to protect others from the virus. The world war spirit was partly illustrated by the 100-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore who, having fought with his comrades in Burma – and who survived, even though many of his comrades did not – was ready to walk a marathon in his back garden to show support for those in the NHS engaged in today’s battle against enemy.
It may seem that wisdom is illusive at this time, circumstances and situations force things to change very quickly and there doesn’t seem to be much room for the accumulation of wisdom. I think that part of the mass appeal of Sir Tom is his wisdom that he is readily sharing with the nation. His wisdom has been accumulated over many decades, even a century! According to Solomon, ‘wisdom is radiant and unfading and is found by those who seek her.’ May we be people who seek wisdom in our times of challenge and confusion.
One of the wisest things we can do is pray. In the middle of the 2nd World War and then on D-Day, King George VI called on the nation to pray. He said, “Four years ago, our Nation and Empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall. Tested as never before in our history, in God’s providence we survived that test; the spirit of the people, resolute, dedicated, burned like a bright flame, lit surely from those unseen fires which nothing can quench. Now once more a supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause. Once again what is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance; we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve.”
At the start of another lock down caused by the Coronavirus, we too should follow the King’s call in his day and pray in our day. We should remember to pray for those suffering or bereaved as a result of the virus and those in laboratories working to attack and overcome our current foe. Alongside our prayers for those who have lost their lives or been injured in the wars of the past and present.
We need to learn from our history, and therefore it is important for Remembrance Sunday to be maintained and the stories told to future generations. Soon all we will have is books and recordings and movies like ‘1917’ to tell the stories.
In the second reading from 1 Thessalonians, St Paul is addressing the concerns raised about what happens when people die. The people of Thessalonica were confused about what would happen, as I believe, many people are confused today. I hope that it is reassuring to know that no one is beyond the reach of God – living or dead. We will meet and be caught up in the clouds.
St Paul makes plain that God’s people will rise to be with Jesus whether they have died or are still alive at Jesus’ return. They will both be with the Lord for ever. St Paul is therefore able to urge the Thessalonian church members to encourage one another with his words. And so, in the same way, may we as members of God’s people here in Burnham encourage one another as we pass through the darkness of the pandemic.
Finally, our Gospel reading urges to be ready for Jesus’ return. The allied forces had to be ready for D-Day, when the King made his call to prayer, and the battles that followed. Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The wise had brought oil for their lamps; the foolish hadn’t. When the bridegroom arrived, the wise could light their lamps and come into the wedding feast; the foolish who had had to go and buy more oil were still queuing at the check-out and their opportunity was lost.
How many of us will find ourselves still at the checkout when Jesus, the Church’s bridegroom, comes? And what, if any, action are we taking now, or do we need to take, to be ready then? Or will we, like the foolish bridesmaids, miss out?
On this Remembrance Sunday, different from many others, we must not forget the history gifted to us from previous generations, we must seek out and listen to the wisdom handed down to us and then pass it forward. As we live through an unprecedented (for us) time with another virus, social and economic crisis all around, threats of terrorism – may we remember that this time too will become history. One day. From the bible commentator Walter Brueggemann, ‘In the recital of memory, these is hope for the future.’
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.