Civic Service of Remembrance
Fr David McGladdery, November 13 2016
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew (5:1-11)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
“Blest are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…blest are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
This year, you have probably heard and seen that The Royal British Legion wants us to “Rethink Remembrance”. That means recognise and remember the sacrifices made by today’s generation as well as the generations of the two world wars of the last century.
When I was a boy – in the naval section of the CCF – Remembrance was about the sacrifices of our fathers’, uncles’, and grandfathers’ generation, who lost their lives in war.
Today, there is no one left alive who fought in the Great War – over 100 years ago. You have to be in your 90s now to have fought in the Second World War. But the Royal British Legion are right – it is necessary to Rethink Remembrance. But, sadly, that is not hard to do. In my life time – since 1962: 2,374 British service men and women have lost their lives in wars and conflict. 2,145 British civilians have been killed in war and conflict in that period. That is a total of 4,519 people whose lives were cut short by being killed as a result of hostilities. 4,519 families, whose lives were wrecked for ever by the pain of war in the last 50 years. Most of those deaths occurred during the Falklands War, The war in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Northern Ireland and this continued “war on terror”.
I want to suggest that on this Remembrance Sunday, we don’t just rethink Remembrance – but we rethink our way of living as communities of human beings.
This last twelve months have seen so much anger unleashed in our society in the United Kingdom and in the United States – our special friends and allies. We have witnessed two appalling campaigns leading to a national referendum and a presidential election on either side of the Atlantic, which were shocking in the levels of anger, racism and general unkindness unleashed. Politicians and would-be politicians, of all types and creeds, have disappointed us with disturbing pronouncements that have been taken up by the press and fired up the passions of people on the streets and in crowds. We have witnessed the cold-blooded murder of an MP; a disturbing rise in the number of reported hate crimes. I know an Italian and an Asian woman who have had shouted to their faces: “We voted for Brexit! Why are you still here?” I know of mothers of young children who are scared for the future world into which their children will grow.
In my parents’ early years – in 1931 and 1934 – the German people voted Adolf Hitler to power as a protest. The day the result of the recent American presidential election was announced – 9th November – was the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass – when members of the German Nazi party destroyed Jewish businesses, homes and lives. On 9th November, 2016, there were protests about the election result in major American cities; sadly, there was also some mob violence.
Service personnel and civilians do not die because of political or religious policies and creeds. They die when politics and religion are used as weapons to beat and control; they die when people stop caring. They die, when protest is encouraged and factions develop. They die when people no longer feel respected and listened to and valued. They die when people forget that we are all part of one human family with needs and cares. As individuals, we are responsible for caring for one another, building community; creating peace and social stability.
Do you remember, where we first learnt to live with other people? In Infants’ School. We learnt values:
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t hit people.
Play fair. Don’t tell lies and tales.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
We learned those values as children, and those were lessons for life. Our Gospel reading, this morning is the blueprint for the rethinking of living given by Jesus, whose mission was to reconcile; to heal and to include all who felt rejected, injured, despised, not listened to, not valued.
The eight Beatitudes in Matthew (Beatitudes means ‘beautiful thoughts’) can be arranged into two categories. The first reflect a longing for a deeper relationship with God and with one another (blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn). The second group reveal the transformation of our lives as fruits of that relationship (blessed are the pure of heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted). The first group brings us into closer relationship with God which results in the transformation of our lives as described in the second group.
So let’s “Rethink Remembrance”. Remembrance is about much more than remembering – it is not about history it is not about looking back; it is about feeling the pain and suffering which has been dealt to others – holding them before God, along with ourselves, and pleading for the grace to make amends – by pledging to work for peace and the healing of humanity. Remembrance is prayer.
“Blest are those who mourn, for they will be comforted… blest are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
God bless you. God love you. God help you to reach out in love to your fellow citizens.