‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Jn 15:13
We come here this afternoon to remember, to remember and give thanks for a sacrifice. We remember and give thanks for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which reconciles us with God and gives us the hope of everlasting life in him. As we meet him week by week and day by day in word and sacrament, truly present in Scripture and in his Body and Blood, what we are doing is not simply recalling the events of the past, but experiencing those events and their effects in the present. The sacrifice and its effects are a reality in our lives.
Likewise when we recall the sacrifice made by people from this village, this country and all over the world, our remembrance must likewise be an active one which has an effect in our lives. We recall the generosity of those who have tried to ensure that we can live lives free from warfare and suffering, a generosity which must leave a mark on our lives. Many people, members of our own families, as no-one has not been touched by the events of the past one hundred years, gladly offered, and still continue to offer themselves for the safety and security of humanity. An act of remembrance has a deeper significance when we know that members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are on active service overseas, working for peace and stability, for a safer, fairer, world, where people can live in peace and plenty. We remember too all the victims of warfare, the countless millions who have lost their lives in a century characterised by conflict, and on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry we call to mind the dreadful cost paid by our near neighbours. Our reaction will, I suspect, of necessity, be a complex one – a mixture of sadness and thankfulness, gratitude and grief – while we are grateful to live in comparative peace after a period of wholesale slaughter, we cannot fail to be moved by the cost of military and civilian lives, which continues to this day.
It is important to see the sacrificial self-giving love of God in Christ’s passion as the pattern of our lives. We are called in our baptism to share in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and this can be lived out in any number of ways. We can remember, too, the vision of peace which characterises the understanding of the Messiah in the prophets. It is a time when the lion will lay with the lamb, and when swords will be beaten into ploughshares. So it seems as though we’re not there yet and in many ways this characterises much of the two thousand years following Christ’s birth. Humanity it seems, while it deeply wants the vision of messianic peace finds itself engaged in warfare of one sort or another.
So is there a way out of this endless cycle? In short, Yes. In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross, who gave himself and suffered for our sins and the sins of all hu-manity: past, present and future. The slaughter of millions of people which characterised the wars of the last century is an act of brutality which nails Jesus to the cross, yet he goes to his death gladly, for love of us. It is this act of total self-giving which shows us what true love is, and how we too need to fashion our lives after this pattern of love. We must always remember that Jesus’ loving self-giving is done for the healing of sin and division – for the reconciliation of humanity with God. While we are conscious of our failings and shortcomings and need for God, we must always remember that we are a people who are forgiven, who are loved by God in a way which has the power to transform our lives. Our lives can be transformed when and if we learn to love not only our friends and family, but our enemies, only then can swords be beaten into ploughshares and the peace for which people fought, struggled and died become a reality in our world. By our trusting in the superabundance of God’s mercy and the power of the cross in our lives can we realise our hopes and dreams for peace. But we need to co-operate with a merciful and loving God, by living out lives which are informed by and filled with our faith, to bring about the peace for which we long, and which is the will of Almighty God.