Monday, November 10, 2014

Justice and Remembrance

A sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Some words from our first reading this morning: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. 

The prophet Amos has harsh words for those who gather for religious ceremony, but who do not allow their celebrations and rememberings to affect their daily lives.  God, says Amos, hates gatherings of people, especially religious gatherings, that neglect those who are in need.  God looks for justice and righteousness, in all our doings, so that they might form mighty waters, an ever-flowing stream.

As we gather on this Remembrance Sunday, we gather to recall with gratitude and sorrow those who have died in war.  We remember those who have served in the armed forces, and those who continue to do so, with gratitude for the spirit of service that they demonstrate.  We remember those who have died, and those who continue to die, in war, with sorrow that their deaths leave a hole that cannot be filled. 

This year we look back especially on the centenary of start of the First World War, and our sense of gratitude and sorrow is particularly focused by the suffering and the carnage of the trenches.  But we cannot, and should not, fail to remember those who have died in more recent conflicts, and those who are affected by war today in Iraq, in Syria, in Ukraine, and in many less well known conflicts around the world.  The flames of war continue to burn.

But there can be thanksgiving in our remembering as well.  On this day 25 years ago, the 9th November 1989, the Berlin wall came down and the scar across the face of Europe could begin to heal.  At the stroke of midnight on 9th November 1989, crowds gathering on both sides of the wall cheered and started to climb it, to go through check points unimpeded, where previously people had been shot for approaching the wall.  Some had brought hammers and chisels, and began to dismantle the barrier.  I remember the television pictures clearly, it was one of the most momentous moments of history during my life time.

In between these remembrances, of the First World War and the end of Berlin Wall, comes another anniversary on 9th November.  On the 9th November 1938, Synagogues across the Third Reich burned, Jewish publications and groups were banned and many Jews were beaten and worse.  Kristallnacht, as it became known, was the worst outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in Germany to that point, and the beginnings of an even more murderous phase in the persecution of Jews.

These three events: the first world war, Kristallnacht, and the fall of the Berlin wall give us a crash course in 20th Century European history.  The bloody conflict of the trenches, the horrors of the second world war and the Nazi tyranny, and the division of a continent between east and west.  All of this has a place in our remembering today.

And as we remember all of this, the history, the service of those men and women which inspires gratitude, and the many, many deaths which provokes our sorrow, as we remember this, we hear again the words of the prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.  Much of our history has failed to hear these words.  Having won the war in 1918, the peace treaty of Versailles in 1919 lost the peace and laid the foundations for the Nazi terror and the division of the continent that followed.  The wars that continue to blight our world are themselves part of the collective failure of human beings to act justly and to seek righteousness.

In all that we do, our acts both great and small, we need to hear the voice of the prophet urging us to act justly, and to live righteously.  As we stand in a few minutes in silence, we will remember with gratitude those who have served and we will remember with sorrow all who have died.  Let us also commit ourselves to work for justice and to seek the paths of righteousness.  In all our acts, great and small, let us do justice.  In all our decisions, complex and simple alike, let us look for the path of righteousness.  That is how we honour those who we remember today.  That is how we honour one another and those who will come after us.  That is how we honour the God who created us, who loves all his creatures, and who mourns every death of his beloved creatures.  This is the way that is set before us, let us choose to walk in it.  “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.  Amen.

Given at St Oswald’s, Ashbourne 9.11.14.

Images are photographs of Derby Cathedral illuminated for Remembrance-tide 9-11.11.14

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