2nd Sunday before Advent
One of the saddest things about growing old is that short term memory starts to fade, though one can often recall events that happened years ago with total clarity, while being totally unable to remember where you left the keys you had in your hands two minutes ago. November is a time heavy with remembering.The Christian feasts of All Saints and All Souls Days, in England, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot to blow up Parliament, and then, Remembrance Sunday (its American equivalent being Veterans Day), falling on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We all remember how so many people had their lives changed forever by two World Wars and other conflicts of the twentieth century.
Now once again, the spectre of world war looms, and though, comfortable in our relative peace, we can easily overlook this, there is always war going on somewhere in the world. A hymn that was once popular on Remembrance Sunday began with the words “O valiant hearts,” which sprang out of the overwhelming grief generated by the litany of death of the First World War. In context its emotionalism is understandable, yet I always felt uneasy about it, because it compared the deaths of all those young soldiers to the death of Our Lord himself.
It was the seventeenth century Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne, who wrote “Any man’s death diminishes me” and so it does; it is in no way to belittle the sacrifice made by many for the protection of liberty and democracy to say that Our Lord’s self-sacrifice is of a totally different kind. Yet in such a terrible year as this it is tempting to ask, blasphemous though it might appear, whether either the Cross or all the sacrifices in recent wars have accomplished anything, so great is the evil which confronts us.
My answer to that, though, has to be a resounding yes. Although we still must reflect about the causes of the First World War, and the consequences, who can doubt that the Second World War was a necessary conflict; had the Allies not gone to war, what would have happened is too horrible to contemplate. And though we have to be a little cautious about the narrative relating to the present conflict in the Ukraine, the bellicose pronouncements of President Vladimir Putin and his cronies, together with, sadly, the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, can give no cause for comfort.
And as to the Cross: the problem is not with Our Lord’s sacrifice, the problem is that men and women continue to live as though it did not matter. They abuse the priceless gift of free will that God has given them, and they sow dreadful seeds of hatred and envy and greed; who can doubt it, for the fruits are everywhere to be seen. Vital though it is for us to fight against evil, it is just as vital for us to root evil out from our own lives, that they may be truly mirrors of Our Lord’s own life. It must never be forgotten, that Jesus went meekly to his Cross, praying all the while for those who had condemned him. We should remember in order to learn and to apply the lessons of the past, but we should also remember, as a spur to renewing our own lives in the image of Christ, who came to bring peace to a troubled world, and who still calls us all to share in his work of bringing peace and hope and reconciliation to others.
Fr Edward Bryant