Today I watched the Remembrance Day Service broadcast from the War Memorial in Ottawa. I was once again struck by the sacrifice our men and women have given over the years. It was hard not to get chocked up as the 2020 Silver Cross Mother laid a wreath for all family members who have lost a loved one.
My wife Susan worked at the Vets Hospital in Ottawa and Deer Lodge in Winnipeg and she would tell stories of her patients who suffered much: both physically and mentally. Whether it be the Second World War, Korea, Bosnia or Afghanistan. The casualties of war have had a tremendous impact on us as a nation.
I was in my early twenties when I met Bob. We worked together and late one night shift he began telling me of his first weeks back after the war. It was 1945; Bob had just returned from Europe. He was only home two days when he was walking down Front Street in Sarnia, Ontario. A car passed along side of him and backfired. He quickly dove under a car right into a mud puddle. When he realized that it was just a car back firing, he quickly came up from the road all covered in mud. Embarrassed, he hoped no one saw him.
Bob had just returned from a war that was to be the end of all wars; but of course, it wasn’t. Bob had survived the physical war but he fought the psychological war the rest of his life. He experienced the sacrifice of fallen comrades and it was obvious to his friends and family that he himself sacrificed much.
A number of years ago I presided at a Communion Service at a retirement home in a community south of Ottawa. After the service, I briefly spoke with a WW 2 Vet who attended the service. Something that I said in my homily sparked accord with him and he said to me: “I went to war; I did my part! I thought that it would put an end to war and that we might be able to live in peace. But as I grow older, I realize that war is not the answer!” It was a different time, a different place; but even after all these years we still search for peace. There is a cost for war and the cost is tremendous!
A symbol of that cost is the wreath. We were not able to have our Remembrance Sunday Service this year due to the Virus Lockdown, but that does not stop us from remembering as we place a poppy upon our jacket.
The Rectory we lived in when I served in Portland, Ontario was just across the street from Emmanuel Anglican Church. When I sat in my favourite chair and looked out the window towards the church, you could see the cenotaph. At this time of year, in November, they place 12 little white crosses with the names of those who gave their lives in the two World Wars and the Korean conflict. I could not help being saddened by the sight of those twelve names marked out on the white crosses. The sacrifices made. But of course, not only the sacrifice of those who died, but the families left behind who grieved for their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. And for those who returned? People like Bob, were different than when they left. The sights and the sounds of war! The experience has an effect on everyone. There are many Veterans of the wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan who continue to suffer with post-traumatic stress. We sometimes miss the sacrifice they and their family have endured.
We do indeed need to remember! We must remember!
So, in remembrance we wear a symbol of the sacrifices. The poppy … Lest we forget!
The Lectionary for the last while have us reading through Paul’s letters to the early Christian Church. The letter to the Ephesian Church was written around 62 AD. Some 30 years after the resurrection of Jesus. Paul had been to this community before and many had come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. They were pretty committed Christians and felt they were going through some pretty strong persecution and Paul tells the congregation: “put on the whole armour of God. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of Jesus power, so that you may stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Jesus says in verse 12 of John 15:
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.
And so there lies within our Christianity this tension:
Between standing up against the wiles of the devil; loving our neighbour; laying down their life for one’s friend…… and yet a world striving for Peace.
I found in my old newspaper clippings an editorial by Lorna Dueck. She wrote in one of her newspaper articles about the 48th Highland Regiment.
“If, one glorious day, wars cease and people learn to live in harmony; if respect and dignity become the universal way of life; if young and old alike can sit in the shade of their gardens and contemplate all that they hold sacred; then our work as soldiers and as a Regiment will be done. But until that time, with God’s help, we will remember those who fell, we will continue in their footsteps and we will serve valiantly as they served valiantly. For there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends and in the cause of lasting peace.”
The early Christian community was not at war with their oppressors but they felt the sting of persecution and death. This community was definitely made up of followers of Christ. But for their dedication, there was a cost! They were persecuted and many were killed. The question asked by the community of faith began to heighten: When does Jesus return?
To that early community the cross represented the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary but they too were experiencing sacrifice. The cross stood as a symbol of their Christian belief. However, they experienced a personal cost for being a Christian. They recognized the cost of their Saviour’s life but they witnessed firsthand a personal cost in following Jesus. They watched their family members; their friends fall at the hands of an oppressor. But Hope springs eternal. The Christian would wear a cross in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus but also a symbol of our hope in Jesus Christ.
We place the wreaths of poppies at Memorial Cenotaphs all across our great country. However, I don’t see the Poppy as a symbol of hope to this world of ours for peace. It is a symbol of sacrifice for sure! It is a symbol of remembrance of those men and women who fought so bravely for our freedom. But I don’t see it as a symbol of hope. For when we rely on man to bring peace to this world, it doesn’t happen. Our hope for peace can only lie in our creator, our saviour, the King of Peace and the symbol we quickly recognize as the symbol of hope is that of the cross to which those names were attached at the Cenotaph in Portland, Ontario or at the gates to our cemetery here at St. Andrews. But also, to so many others. The names of the persecuted, the oppressed, the down trodden, the names of the martyrs, the names of those willing to stand up and hold to the faith in the living God!
Our faith stands on the promises found in the Bible where we can find our hope: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1,2, NIV).
As a Christian, I have hope, not just for this life, but for heaven and the life to come. And that’s the hope for all of us who put our faith in God. I pray that you will have this hope in your heart.
The symbol of that hope lies in those 12 little white crosses. For the Christian, the Cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, that He took upon Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. And from the Cross, God declares: “I love you.
I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. I love you.”
Thankfully the story does not end with the Cross, but with the Resurrection. It points His followers to a place beyond the cross to an empty tomb; to Resurrection. The ultimate place of hope! Where evil, where sin is completely defeated and we have eternal life of which gives us much hope.
For those who are in Christ Jesus, this world is only a prelude to a better world yet to come. A place of peace and joy and love and light. A place where we lay our hope!
Paul wrote to that early church: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Rev. Merv Lanctot
Faith grows in the soil of hope!