Reflection for Remembrance Sunday, the third Sunday before Advent

Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples 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 the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

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. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’.

Reflection for Remembrance Sunday – ‘Lest we forget’

It seems hard to imagine now, but last February, shortly before the arrival of COVID-19 to our shores, we stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the beautiful and historic Westminster Abbey. It is hard for us to grasp the sense of national grief in Britain following the Great War, but the story of how that tomb came to be gives us some insight into those times.

It was the idea of a former military chaplain named David Railton, inspired by a wooden cross he had seen in a village on the western front with a handwritten inscription ‘An unknown British soldier’. Railton proposed that the remains of an unidentified soldier should be exhumed and returned to England to be buried among the kings, poets and prime ministers at Westminster Abbey. Lloyd George seized on the idea and arrangements were made.

In fact, the remains of four unidentified British soldiers were exhumed and taken to a makeshift mortuary where a blindfolded officer chose one of them at random. The remains were placed in an oak coffin and shipped to Dover where it was greeted with a nineteen-gun salute, before being taken to London. A further gun salute was given in Hyde Park on 11 November 1920 before the coffin was taken by horse-drawn gun carriage to the Abbey in a procession led by King George V. In a solemn ceremony, the coffin was lowered into a grave beneath the floor and filled with soil taken from several battlefields on the western front. An emotional funeral service ended with a hymn, of which the refrain was ‘Lest we forget, lest we forget.’

The intention behind this tomb to an unknown soldier was to provide a focus for the grief of thousands of families who had loved ones buried in unidentified graves, many of whom were listed as missing, presumed dead. Four days after the ceremony at Westminster, a seven-mile line of people still waited to place flowers at the tomb.

It has been the custom in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim to read out the names from the War Memorial at the service held on Remembrance Sunday followed by a minute’s silence, preceded by the ‘Last Post’, played on the organ and ending with ‘Reveille’. Although we are more than a century past that conflict now, the service is still attended by some relatives of those named on the memorial. Sadly, this year, there will be no service in the cathedral due to the pandemic, but hopefully the tradition will continue in future years.

We may question why we continue with this yearly tradition of remembrance and I believe that the answer is supplied in the words of the refrain in the hymn, ‘Lest we forget’. There is now a national day of commemoration in July for all who have died in war and on peacekeeping service abroad. However, if we discontinue the tradition of observing silence and remembering the dead of world wars and other conflicts on 11 November, we could easily lose this opportunity for remembrance and reflection.

The scripture readings for today point to God’s desire for a world in which armed conflict is a thing of the past and the weapons of war have been recycled into farming implements, where people ‘will beat swords into ploughshares’. The prophet Isaiah envisaged a world where not only would violent conflict end between nations, but ‘neither shall they learn war any more’. We know that the world does not look like that. It wasn’t like that when the prophet penned those words hundreds of years B.C. and it certainly isn’t like that now.

In this past week, we have witnessed violent acts of terrorism in Austria and Afghanistan. An old conflict has erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In Yemen, a civil war has raged for raged for six years. There are many other conflicts and our world is probably less stable than it has been for some time. All war leads to human suffering, grief, and loss – it destroys life.

Our Lord’s core teaching in the Sermon on the Mount sets out a vision for the Kingdom he came to establish, where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. In it, he taught: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’. Peacemaking and peacebuilding is the calling of all who follow Christ.

Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity to proclaim this core value of the Christian gospel. It is an opportunity to pray for peace in our world, and to pray for the victims of war, violence and oppression around the world. It is a reminder to commit to Christ’s way of peace.

Collect for Remembrance Sunday

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the king of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Prayers of intercession

God our Father, who taught us through your Son that blessed are the peacemakers, we pray for all who seek to make and build peace in our troubled world. We pray for the work of the United Nations and all agencies of peace and reconciliation. We pray for those places where there is war, violence and terrorism, remembering the victims of attacks in Nice, Kabul and Vienna. Strengthen all who work for the cause of peace, reconciliation and justice.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for your church, that it may be a beacon of hope in the world and an agent of your peace. We pray for the church in places of strife and conflict. Protect them and enable them to proclaim your gospel of peace. We pray for this diocese, our parish and for Pat, our bishop.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for governments and leaders around the world as they seek to manage the COVID-19 virus and to prevent its spread. We pray for countries throughout Europe that are experiencing an upsurge in cases and for our own country. Give wisdom to all who lead and manage health services. We pray for the protection of all frontline health workers as they care for victims of the virus. Guide all who are engaged in medical research, so that an effective and safe remedy may soon be found.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill, those in hospital, at home or in nursing homes. We pray for all who are undergoing or recovering from medical treatment or surgery and those who struggle daily with pain or disability. Grant them your healing, peace and strength,

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who grieve and mourn the loss of loved ones. We remember with thanksgiving our loved ones departed from us. We remember today all who have died in war and in the service of their country. Bring us with them and all your saints to your eternal kingdom of peace.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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