Job 19: 21-27
1 Cor 15: 51-57
John 6: 37-40
The readings appointed for Remembrance Sunday are all about death and resurrection. This dominant element of solemnity in the face of war, marks a dramatic change from times past. For most of human history, remembering great battles was more likely to prompt triumphalism than lament, with the glory of victory the principal object of celebratory poems, paintings and pieces of music. It is in this triumphant spirit that the first Book of Samuel records:
And the women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
The unimaginable number of deaths caused by mechanized weaponry in the First World War, from which Remembrance Day sprang, changed all that. It has become unthinkable that we should “make merry” about the slaughter of ‘ten thousands’, especially since the major bombardments characteristic of modern war invariably lead to the death of civilians. Photography then, and since, has enabled everyone to see with their own eyes the horror of war, and undermined all talk of ‘glorious battle’.
This explains the choice of readings, but only in part. Death comes to us all, and the Christian hope of resurrection is relevant regardless of how we die, whether in battle on in bed. So do these readings have anything special to tell us at Remembrance-tide? Two sentences from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians stand out: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”. In the practice of war, even in a just cause, we have a compelling example of how ‘the law’ empowers sin. Prosecuting war in accordance with our very best human efforts and ingenuity – which itself is rare – at most gives only a fleeting form of victory. The supreme victory is when, in Isaiah’s phrase, ‘peace flows like a river’ and wars are no more. But this is a victory that no war between nations or peoples could ever give us. It is available only, and mysteriously, through the victory of Christ on the Cross.
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