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Remembrance Sunday

In the Resurrection 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5; 13-end; Luke 20:27-38

Two Ladies on a Train
A man once found himself on a train between two ladies. In this instance it was an unpleasant experience as the two ladies argued incessantly about whether the window should be shut or open. The lady furthest from the window argued that she would die of heat stroke if it wasn’t opened. The other said she would almost certainly catch pneumonia if it didn’t stay closed. When the ticket inspector arrived the ladies appealed to him to adjudicate on the issue. Unfortunately he had no solution. Eventually the man spoke up. "First open the window. That will kill the one. Then close it. That will kill the other. Then we will have peace."
Many people have a concept of peace similar to the man in this story. For them peace is the absence of conflict. However this falls far short of the biblical vision. In Scripture peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of love, generosity and grace as the transforming principle of our relationships.

On this Remembrance Sunday we express our gratitude and respect to those who gave their lives so that there may be peace. We remember the evil that is war, and we renew our resolve to maintain a positive peace which is more than just the absence of conflict.

What may bring our acts of remembrance into sharper focus this year are the recent deaths not of soldiers but of the four firefighters in the warehouse fire near Alcester this week. Paying tribute to her new husband, Fay Yates-Badley said, "He was the love of my life and we were meant to be together forever. But I know that he will save a place for me in heaven." She added that her husband had been "a hero". (BBC News)
What brings some relief to the pain and tragedy of premature or traumatic loss is the thought that those who lost their lives did not die in vain. They gave their lives for a greater cause, and that death is not the end.
However secular our society may have grown, there is still a strong belief in heaven and a hope of going there. This also helps to put our grief into some perspective. Though I must add, that when a couple comes to me to say that they want to be together forever, I say that I can only offer them vows for life: “till death do us part” are the words in the marriage service.

Life after Death
As we draw towards the season of Advent and think both of the first and the second coming of Christ, it is appropriate that our Bible readings lead us towards their teachings about life after death. In the epistle reading the writer is dealing with the anxieties of the Christian community in Thessalonica. There are rumours going round that the Lord has already come and that they may have missed it. They are to be reassured that the Lord has not already come again and they are indeed, among those chosen as the “first fruits” for salvation. They are also reminded of the teaching they received, to stand firm and hold to what they learnt and accepted when they first became believers. They are not to worry but to trust in God through Christ.

In the Gospel reading Jesus is in dispute with the Sadducees. They were a sect at the time of Jesus who denied that there was a resurrection. That is why they were sad, you see! Jesus had more sympathy with a rival sect, the Pharisees, who did believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees told their story of the unfortunate widow who lost 7 brother-husbands. They thought it was a knock-down argument proving the folly of believing in the resurrection. Jesus’ responded in two ways: first, he challenged the way they thought and second he chided them not paying full attention to Moses. First, he said, your thought-lines are closed – you do not understand what life in the resurrection means. To use modern parlance: you need to think outside of the box! Life in the resurrection transcends earthly things like marriage. Secondly, you have obviously missed the part of Moses’ story when God says that to Him, those we think of as dead, like our ancestors, are actually present or alive. Therefore Moses believed in an afterlife, and if the Sadducees claimed to be following Moses, they needed to accept all of his teaching!

I mentioned that life in the resurrection transcends earthly things like marriage. That may sound like marriage will no longer matter, or even that we will not recognise each other any more. That seems a negative thing to say. St Paul taught us that we will have spiritual bodies. Whatever else that means, I think that who we are as individuals will still be recognisable. However, since marriage, as Jesus teaches, is tied up with being mortal, when we are immortal, our loving, our commitment to faithful relationships and the way will belong to one another will no longer depend on marriage. That is why marriage is dissolved at death and our belonging to each other will be far superior to the here and now.

Not died in vain
To conclude I want to return to something said by the young widow of her dead husband Darren: she said that he was a hero. In a simple way I think that speaks volumes. When someone dies prematurely it can seem very futile. It seems a waste of life. When we think of the millions who die young in war the sense of futility can be overwhelming. We can be driven to despair wondering whether there is any value to life and living. Fay believed Darren was a hero – someone who risked all for a greater purpose. I want to close with a quotation which I have found personally moving and positive. The words form the finale of the Resurrection Symphony composed by Gustav Mahler, who himself died in his mid-50’s. The words may seem simple, but when they are allied to the stirring music, they are very inspiring:

O believe, my heart,
O believe
Nothing of you will be lost;
What you longed for is yours,
Yours what you loved,
O believe, you were not born
in vain!
Have not vainly lived
and suffered!
What you championed.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith




God, our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord.