A sermon preached by Rev Arwen Folkes on Remembrance Sunday at 11.30am
What thoughts have we, as we keep our two minutes silence?
Perhaps a family member whose name is a precious inheritance?
Maybe the wars, past and present, raging, boiling and hurting?
Perhaps the children, displaced and left without home or parents?
Maybe the way the red of the poppies mirrors the colour of blood?
Whatever happens inside ourselves,
the silence that descends externally,
stretching across our land,
shared by hundreds of thousands,
perhaps millions of people.
is a striking pause in our lives.
A two minute ripple,
echoing the possibility and plausibility of peace,
a wordless respectful pause,
full of the potential that comes when real respect for human life
Is held in our hearts.
That rippling echo is pregnant with importance:
Ukraine, the Middle East,
and all the places that don’t make the headlines,
live in a present day horror that we all believed and hoped,
was consigned to the past.
This Remembrance Day brings us to recall
how easily, how dangerously, and how brutally,
nations can fall into horrible and horrific acrimony with one another.
Reading the headlines can make us feel utterly powerless,
unable to prevent or avoid such wars continuing or starting, or escalating.
And yet, pausing our words for just two minutes, brings us into
pregnant presence of peace’s possibility.
In his poem,
entitled War and Peace
Sri Chinmoy describes how war begins in the human heart;
he writes –
Man seeks war when he thinks that the world is not his.
Man invites war when he feels that he can conquer the world.
Man proclaims war when he dreams
That the world has already surrendered to him.
The greedy complacency that Chinmoy speaks of
is echoed in the story of the Bridesmaids.
We hear how half of them have taken their light for granted.
They have neglected to refill their lamps with oil,
relied on others to provide it,
assumed that the light would last without any effort,
that it was the work of others to sort it all out.
Maybe they were too busy with gossip and blame,
wasting their precious resource of light.
I wonder if they would fill the two minutes silence
with idle self interested chatter,
or whether they would even keep silence at all.
But their oil has run out
and they have plunged into darkness.
What of that oil though?
Why is it so precious?
Why is Jesus so concerned about how it is kept?
I can’t help thinking of the poetry of the psalmist who describes
‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head … it is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.’
The oil of the bridesmaids on this Remembrance Sunday offers itself here to us as a metaphor for the peace that reigns when we work to live together in unity. The light that we long for when humanity commits together, to replace fear with hope, replace hatred with love, replace loathing with understanding.
It is a commitment that
takes diligence and care.
The bridesmaids who steward their oil,
who prepare to keep their light burning
are actively aware of their own responsibility.
They know that being at peace,
being in the light, is not an accident.
They know their and our part of this responsibility,
that we all have a part to play in de-escalating disputes,
in seeking justice, and in seeing every human being in their full dignity.
Even when we live in troubled times;
times where peace has been revealed
not to be a ‘lesson we’ve learned’
but instead precious and precarious,
a delicate duty that we all bear.
In paying tribute to those who lost their lives in pursuit of peace,
we are handed the mantle of keeping it, fostering it, and protecting it wherever and however we can.
To keep plentiful the oils of compassion, love, and respect,
to keep the lamp of peace alight, to hold our public figures to the same standard, and to prevent it being so that others have to risk their lives to retrieve it.
When God became man in Jesus Christ, He sought to show us how to fill those oil flasks, how to keep our lamps lit, how to pursue peace. Loving and respecting our neighbour is not mere sentiment, but a serious and life-saving challenge. The legacy of those we have lost, is surely to remember our own work towards the peace they prayed for, they longed for, and they fought for.
The remembrance red of today’s poppies mirrors the red of the blood that we each have coursing through our veins; showing us that whatever the background, creed, ethnicity, religion, or political view, every single human being upon this earth is a neighbour to be loved.
I give my final words to the poet I mentioned earlier:
“Man invents war.
Man discovers peace.
He invents war from without.
He discovers peace from within.
War man throws.
Peace man sows.
The smile of war is the flood of human blood.
The smile of peace is the love, below, above.”