Sunday, 10 November 2019

‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you;
abide in my love’

Poppies in a garden in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 10 November 2019

Third Sunday before Advent

Remembrance Sunday


11.30: Remembrance Sunday Service, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Revelation 1: 1-7; John 15: 9-17.

The World War I Memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This year, Remembrance Sunday has an added poignancy in its commemorations, as 2019 marks the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and the centenary of the official end of World War I with the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919.

War is always poignant, and it must have been very difficult for many families as they waited, knowing that World War I had ended on 11 November 1918, but were forced to wait, silently, broken and in pain, for men to be demobbed.

After Armistice Day, the world still thought it was on the brink of war, waiting for the armistice to collapse. Hostilities had ceased, but peace had not been secured; war could break out again at any moment.

The Treaty of Versailles was not signed until 28 June 1919, and it did not come into effect until 20 January 1920.

For many men who came home to Ireland more than 14 months after hostilities had ceased, this was a very different country. Instead of coming home to heroes’ welcomes, they kept their heads down, and kept quiet. Many never spoke again of their experiences.

There is the silence of the dead, who cannot speak of their war experiences. But there was also the silence of the living, who dared not speak of their war experiences.

And if we do not speak of war, if we do not speak of the experiences of the living and the dead, we find ourselves once again on the brink of war, wondering how these things creep up on us again without talking about the causes of war.

Earlier this morning, at the Parish Eucharist in Castletown Church (Luke 20: 27-38), we heard the Gospel story of the widow whose husband was one of seven brothers, and how she was widowed and married off again, time after time, until the sequence came to an end with the death of the seventh brother.

The Sadducees in the Temple asked Jesus some silly questions about this seven-times widow, wondering whose wife she would be in heaven.

They were silly questions, asked only with the purpose of setting a trap for Jesus. The Sadducees did not believe in the after-life, so any answer Jesus gave was going to be ridiculed.

They were no more interested in Jesus’ answer than they were in the plight of this widow. And just as they had no real interest in life after death for this widow, they had no interest in life before death for her.

If they had, they would have asked her how she felt not about eternal life but about her life in the here and now … how did she feel after the death of her husband and her husbands … how did she feel about being traded as a commodity to protect men’s property interests … how did they die … did they die in war …?

I wonder how many men bothered to ask my grandmother how she felt when her husband, my grandfather, returned from Thessaloniki in the middle of World War I, suffering from malaria, malaria that would eventually take him to an early grave.

She was so distressed that the age she gave for him on his gravestone is 49 … not the age he was when he died in 1921 (which was 53), but the age he was in 1916, when he returned from the war in Greece.

Perhaps, in this very sad mistake, she was saying the war had killed her husband.

She lived as widow for another 27 years, bringing up six children, two stepchildren and the four children of her marriage. Who ever asked her what she felt about life-before-death, never mind life-after-death?

In responding to the earlier Gospel reading in Castletown this morning, I said that, instead of falling into the trap that was being prepared for him, Jesus gave an answer that offered these three truths:

● God is alive and loving
● We are God’s children
● Love is at the heart of true relationships

The very same thing is being said in our Gospel reading (John 15: 9-17) here this morning: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love … This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you … You are my friends if you do what I command you.’

If we fail to listen to the plight of the victims of war, then war creeps up on us suddenly. And then we ask: ‘Why did no-one tell us.’

World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. That promise was betrayed, for my grandmother, for all the men who are named on the memorials in this church, for their widows, mothers, sisters, daughters, for all who loved them, for all who continue to love them and to cherish their memories.

Wars continue to be waged in Syria … in Iraq … in Turkey … in central Africa …

And when the war widows and refugees arrive in Ireland, they must wonder, in some places, whether we ever heard this commandment, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’

It is salutary to be reminded on this morning of all mornings we are Christ’s friends if we do what he commands us to do, and that is to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’

There are no terms and conditions. Just, Love.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

A wilted poppy in the mud in a field in Comberford, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 9-17 (NRSVA):

9 [Jesus said:] ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’

Poppies in a garden on Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the king of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

For Peace in a Broken World:

Lord God our Creator,
your Son Jesus Christ prayed
that his disciples might have abundant life;
we gather to bring before you those whose lives
are scarred by the evils of hatred, violence and genocide,
by our inhumanity one to another.
Through the mystery of Christ’s suffering
transform our brokenness and disunity
into a new a lasting wholeness and peace:
we ask this through him who suffered, died and rose again,
even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Forgiveness:

Loving God,
you made us in your own image
and set us in the midst of your creation;
move us to repentance for our marring of that image
and the destruction of your creation
by our sins of greed and hatred, injustice and warfare;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing

God grant to the living, grace
to the departed, rest,
to the Church and to the nations, peace and concord;
and the blessing...

Hymns:

62: Abide with me (CD 4)
647: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (CD 37)
537: O God, our help in ages past (CD 31)
494, Beauty for brokenness (CD 29)

The World War II Memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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