Remembrance Day Reflection
Mark 12 38-44
This is a photograph of Westminster College Chapel, a place that has, over the last few years become very familiar to me. Westminster College’s chapel is a War Memorial, it was paid for by the parents of one of the students who was killed during “The Great War”, but it commemorates all of the students of the college who have lost their lives in the two world wars. The thing that makes that unusual is that it recognises British men alongside their German fellow students.
In 2014 the major art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London marked one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. There But Not There is a nationwide installation for the fallen, timed to conclude on Armistice Day 2018. It will marks the centenary of Armistice Day 1918. You can see on the left hand side of the picture a Tommy, an image of someone who died in the War, there because of what he fought for remains but not there because of his death.
Gradually, in public sites throughout the UK, Perspex or metal images of a ‘Tommy’ have appeared, there is the image of one in the picture on the screen. There are some in and around Pontypridd, although sadly those that were in the park had to be removed, due to acts of vandalism. ‘Tommy’ was the colloquial name for a foot soldier in the First World War (WW1). The new ‘Tommies’ are reminders of the people whose absence has had a lingering and profound effect on their home communities. We know, however, that the ‘Tommy’ also represents many more people than the millions of fathers, brothers, sons, friends and colleagues who served in the four years of the First World War.
You may have already made the connection but you may be wondering what this has to do with the Gospel reading of today and indeed what it has to say to us today, 100 years since the end of the war that was intended to end all wars!
The story from the Gospel of Mark, heard on this Remembrance Sunday, remind us about the difference between those who seem respectable, and those who make sacrifices. In the world as it is today it seems easy for a politician, a diplomat, or think-tank expert, enjoying a comfortable life in Washington or London, to say: here’s a problem- in Iran, or Syria, or Pakistan or Afghanistan. Let’s solve it with air strikes, or by arming the rebels, or sending in a drone. They will give you any manner of reasons for their advice, and they will seem credible and persuasive, and they are listened to because they appear to be plausible. They might talk about justice, or honour, or the national interest, so that it feels like we must believe them. Are they the modern day equivalent of the scribes in the temple? How does Jesus describe the scribes in this passage? These teachers of religious law crave to be great; they value themselves in their religious clothing; they expect people to show respect to them as they walk proudly about the street to show off. Wherever they are, at the temple or at feasts, they always want to be prominent and honoured. But actually they make use of their fake piety for profit and gain. Jesus says that, instead of supporting and comforting the widows, the scribes devour their houses. In a word, their lifestyle is made of pride, self- belief, and hypocrisy.
In contrast to these sham leaders, there is this widow who first of all was poor and humble. In her deep devotion she shows a complete trust and a genuine faith in God. This widow offers to God the totality of her resources in order to take care of and to help the other. What she has done testifies to her total trust in God’s providence. For her, it is part of her journey of faith; so there is no need to make any provision for tomorrow. And Jesus calls us to look at this woman. Who is she? She is a humble poor widow. How is she? She is full of faith. What is she and what has she done that defines who she is? She has come as she is and has given all she had to God.
Sacrifice is often paid by those who have no say in the matter. Today, I know, many people will be remembering those who, like the widow in the temple, gave everything they had. People who understood that sacrifice might be required of them- and they gave their lives, I don’t think that anyone who signs that dotted line has that thought at the front of their mind, but when they do so it is a real possibility that they may be called to do just that or risk being returned physically or mentally shattered. It’s those grandfathers, fathers, uncles and brothers and friends we remember today. And we also remember those who did not choose to be caught up in war: those killed in air raids, or in towns and villages and cities which became battlefields, the men, women and children who were not combatants, but who also suffered. We remember them, and we honour them, for they gave what they could, which was often all they had.
Today, on this Remembrance Day, we commemorate the members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty. We remember all those civilians and military people who, for the sake of freedom, lost their lives in armed conflicts. But we also recall the hope of peace after the end of bloody hostilities and merciless battles. We have in our thoughts those who laid down their lives for us to have freedom and peace. And we pray, so that their gift and sacrifice would not be vain.
As we do so may we be reminded of the words of Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome, …neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8. 38,39).
In the name of the Christ, The Prince of Peace.