Reflection and Prayers – Rev Dr Phil Wall
Remembrance Sunday 2021
Our once-a-month zoom services are more interactive than our current in-house services so Phil’s reflection is shorter than usual. Below is a selection of what will be shared during the service.
The Act of Remembrance
‘For their tomorrow, we gave our today’. Words there attributed to the English poet John Maxwell Edmonds and found on the epitaph which commemorates those who died in the Battle of Kohima in northern India. Words used today to today speak of the sacrifice made by all who have lost their lives in conflict.
Over the last couple of years, there have been far too many crude comparisons between the pandemic and war and yet one thing we know to be true is that many NHS staff and care home workers also sacrificed so much in their care of others – for some, even their lives. And when it comes to honouring those no longer with us – those who have died in conflict, those who lost their lives in the pandemic, all those who have gone before us for that matter – some call for symbols and statues; some find that only silence can enable honest reflection; others call for stories – that in sharing the individual twists and turns, incidents and idiosyncrasies of someone’s life, their mark on the world is celebrated and their influence can truly live on. Any of us who have watched ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ – that BBC show in which celebrities trace their family history and unveil all sorts of fascinating tales about their ancestors – might well agree, for whilst names on a family tree can feel distant and detached, hearing something of our ancestor’s stories helps bring them to life. It can also be an act of healing as we grieve, remember, and celebrate those who will always remain a part of our story.
[Those on zoom are then encouraged, in groups, to share a treasured memory of someone they would like to remember. If you’re reading this at home, perhaps you would like to pause and rest with some of your memories. Or you could share a favourite story of someone no longer with us with another – whether in person or on the ‘phone].
Let us continue in our sharing of stories as we remember an unnamed widow and the God who promised her life…
Bible reading: 1 Kings 17:7-16
7-9 In the days of the drought, God said to Elijah “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.”
10-11 So he got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the village he met a woman, a widow, gathering firewood. He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug? I need a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”
12 She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die.”
13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’”
15-16 And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked. And it turned out as he said—daily food for her and her family. The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil didn’t become empty: God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!
I wonder what stood out for you in this story? Perhaps it was the cheek of Elijah, demanding the widow serve him with little compassion in his voice…especially as, when you read the wider story, you learn that he’s the one who brought about the drought which threatened to kill both the widow and her son. Today, climate change is threatening the lives of many widows and sons through famine and drought and, too often, those who are mostly responsible for it demand that the nameless poor sacrifice their health and well-being to serve the needs of the powerful. It seems like some things never change.
And yet…alongside the widow’s plight, we read that the widow and her son are not forgotten by God. Though foreign, nameless, and poor to Elijah, they were known, loved, and valued by God. So the jar of meal didn’t run out; the bottle of oil wasn’t emptied; God’s promise wasn’t broken. And on this day of remembrance, we’d do well to remember the promises of God, perhaps particularly the words of God-in-Christ when, at a table of remembrance, when he knew he would soon have to leave them, Jesus told his friends not to be afraid. He assured them that their grief would turn to joy. He promised them that he was going to his Father’s house, to prepare a place for them, so that where he was going, they would one day be too.
This world-shaking promise of the life to come does not negate the sting of death. It does not stop us from grieving as we remember but it does tell us that, for God, there is no such thing as unnamed widows or unknown soldiers. It calls us to believe that our lost loved ones are not lost to God but have been welcomed home. It invites us to remember that neither the present, nor the future; neither height nor depth; neither conflict nor pandemic; life nor even death, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In a moment, Lynda will lead our prayers for the world and ourselves but first, Margaret will read for us a few verses from the poet-priest Malcolm Guite. During the height of the pandemic, Malcolm reflected on our collective grief in poems he entitled ‘The Quarantine Quatrains’. The verses we will hear remind us that behind each death, each statistic, there is a face, a person, a story…and that all are held in Christ’s abiding love…
At close of day I hear the gentle rain
Whilst experts on the radio explain
Mind-numbing numbers, rising by the day,
Cyphers of unimaginable pain.
Each evening they announce the deadly toll
And patient voices calmly call the roll
I hear the numbers, cannot know the names
Behind each number, mind and heart and
Behind each number one beloved face
A light in life whom no-one can replace,
Leaves on this world a signature, a trace,
A gleaning and a memory of grace.
All loved and loving, carried to the grave
The ones whom every effort could not save
Amongst them all those carers whose strong love
Bought life for others with the lives they gave
The sun sets and I find myself in prayer
Lifting aloft the sorrow that we share
Feeling for words of hope amidst despair
I voice my vespers through the quiet air:
O Christ who suffers with us, hold us close,
Deep in the secret garden of the rose,
Raise over us the banner of your love
And raise us up beyond our last repose.
Malcolm Guite, Quarantine Quatrains. 2020
Those who are moved by Malcolm’s work are encouraged to check out his website, where – amongst other things – they can buy him a coffee as a thanks! https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/
Prayers of intercession
Gracious God, source of all life, mysterious and generous in love, we give thanks for those we remember today. Thanks for the lives that shaped us, the hands that held us; for the voices that inspired us and the love that enriched our lives. We give you thanks believing that those we remember today are held in your embrace; we trust that we will meet them again in a place where there can never be farewells.
On this Remembrance Sunday, we pledge once again to seek and to be signs of your peaceful kingdom as we remember all those who are walking your path of peace today.
The staff of United Nations agencies dedicated to the rights of children, the feeding of the hungry, the protection of the earth’s ecology, the rescue of refugees, the dignity of citizens in every country.
The Charities established to support those affected by conflict.
Those experts in mediation, working with those who suffer brokenness in family life, in business relationships, in churches and community organisations.
Voices of hope that speak the words that bring a sense of peace, that sing the songs that inspire justice, that describe the touch that gives gentleness to the world.
People known to us who can be impatient or aggressive when they are afraid, and who need to be loved and reassured even when they think they are in charge…
People known to us who give us stillness in our souls and make peacemakers of us by miracle…
People of prayer who hear and see the peace of Christ every day and carry it about as a gift to the world, free and flowing…
In this time, we remember, too, those who live under the oppressive weight of violence.
We remember the women, men and children whose lives are shattered by wars of all sorts, thinking of the victims of conflict in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and elsewhere.
We lift up those who are targets of devastation and those who are its perpetrators;
In every nation, on every continent, in every place where a living thing draws breath, Grant us peace, we pray.
In a moment of stillness, we bring before you the people and places, stories and situations, which burn on our hearts today…
We bring our prayers together – those spoken and silent – through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who taught us to pray, saying in whichever language and version we choose… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Now and forever. Amen.
Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’…May we be blessed this week and as we prepare to seek peace in our relationships and communities. With that in mind let’s say together the universal Peace Prayer…
Lead me from death to life; From falsehood to truth
Lead me from despair to hope; From fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love; From war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe. Amen.