One hundred years ago – almost to the month – the Princess Pats – Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry – landed in France to fight. Other Canadian soldiers would join them in 1915. Eventually 66,000 Canadians would die in the First World War out of a Canadian population of 8 million. On Tuesday we will remember that day when the Armistice was signed at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
Canadian soldiers returned to their homes, to their farms and to their industry – and Europe rebuilt itself. The Weimar Republic began as a centre of democratic ideals and artistic excellence. Berlin was free and, for the middle classes at least, a place of relative safety. And yet in a matter of months hyperinflation destroyed both the economy and democracy and saw the rise of the Nazi party, antisemitism, aryan supremacy and a whole raft of legislation against Jews, the Roma peoples, homosexuals and people with disabilities.
The Great War to end all wars had imperceptibly prepared Europe for the Second World War some twenty years later in which over 60 million people were killed, 2.5% of the world’s population.
This morning we keep Remembrance Sunday with the Grenadier Guards. We remember and honour those men and women who gave their lives to fight evil and who have fought since for freedom, peace and justice in various conflicts around the world. We are honoured to have the family of Moe Hurwitz with us this morning, I am sorry that the Christian Church doesn’t have a mechanism for honouring non-Christians like the Jewish concept of calling people Righteous Gentiles – I think he would be one, if you see what I mean – one of the many Righteous.
But remembering alone cannot change what has happened in the past. By remembering cannot bring back even one life from those wretched trenches of the First World War, or the gas chambers of the Second World War – a child from Viet Nam, a beheaded man from Syria. We cannot bring back Patrice Vincent or Nathan Cirillo murdered on our streets simply because of the uniform they wear – simply because they were soldiers.
Wisdom with hindsight may feel comforting – but it can do nothing.
As we remember a century of suffering, evil, agony and death – the most bloody and murderous century in our human history. We cannot change one thing.
But perhaps we can change our futures. Perhaps we can change how we remember our past and so change how we allow our past to change us – Perhaps we can allow ourselves to be wise with hindsight, so that we may learn to be wise with foresight also.
The scriptures in today’s first reading tell us that wisdom is not hard to find.
Wisdom is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate.
This surprises me, because decisions of life and death, war and peace, whether to send troops to fight or not send troops to fight are difficult, and wisdom can all too easily elude us. How many innocent men, women and children are needed to be destroyed in Nazi Germany before wisdom tells us it is right to go to war and kill? How many are massacred in Rwanda or in Bosnia before we intervene? How many women are denied freedom or education, before those who have freedom and education decide to act in Afghanistan – How many Iraqis are brutally murdered by other Iraqis before the world’s wisdom says: enough is enough? One hundred? one thousand? one million? ….
and even when we do decide to act, what then is the right action? Sanctions, military resources, drones, bombing, boots on the ground: Where is wisdom to be found ? write our Holy Scriptures in the book of Job, that book which deals so powerfully with suffering and righteousness: Let me read you a short passage:
Where, O where can wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding? The human race does not understand its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be bought with gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver.
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds of the air. Destruction and Death say, ‘Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.’
God alone understands the way to Wisdom and God alone knows where it dwells, …….. And God said, ‘The fear of the Lord — that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding.’ “
Which sounds much more like what we experience when we are faced with the moral dilemmas of our time.
So how are we to reconcile two apparently very different texts from our one Holy Book – even if one of them is from what we call the apocrypha and doesn’t have a place in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In today’s Gospel – a strange Gospel for Remembrance Sunday – we are warned by Jesus of the dangers of not being adequately prepared. It is not the only parable which Jesus tells about the need to be prepared: there is the parable of a king going to war and the need to make sure that he will win the battle; the parable of keeping alert because the thief will come in the night when we least expect it; and the parable of the drunk steward who is not ready for the Master’s return.
But this parable – the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is the parable about being prepared above all others. Ten bridesmaids are ready to meet the bridegroom – but the bridegroom does not come and there is a great deal of waiting about. By the time the groom does eventually come – the time of crisis – the lamps are going out and only those bridesmaids who have been wise enough with foresight and have brought more oil are ready to meet the future – ready to go into the banquet. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
And perhaps here we have the link we need between the Wisdom of remembering and the Wisdom of being prepared, and Remembrance Day and meeting the future.
Here this morning, and again on Tuesday at cenotaphs around the world, people will remember the past, so that they can search for wisdom and so be prepared for the future day – the day of judgement, which has so many faces.
In the first reading this morning, Wisdom – although it is so obviously there and can be found as easily as finding a person sitting at our gate – we also learn that Wisdom needs to be loved, sought and desired.
She is easily discerned – yes – but not by all, only by those who love her.
She is found – yes – but only by those who seek her
She hastens to make herself known – but only to those who desire her.
In both the reading from the Book of Wisdom and the reading from the Gospel, we are reminded that we have our part to play – to love, and seek and desire Wisdom – and that loving, and seeking and desiring, involves planning and preparation, being ready to be called upon when the hour of judgement comes. How fitting – and what terrifying responsibility – for reservists – those who are being prepared personally so that they may also be prepared for us on our behalf.
And those of us who are not reservists this morning are nevertheless reminded on this Remembrance Sunday – a day where civilian and military remember together rather than in our own isolated spaces – we are reminded that in some sense we are all called to be reservists for Holy Wisdom in the struggle for justice, and peace, and right, and humanity. We are each of us called to be on guard – to seek wisdom with foresight – and yes this morning we will sing the Canadian National Anthem, even those of us who are not Canadians and who love many other different countries around this world which God has given us – but all of us, without exception are reminded today as we remember the past – that for the future’s sake, for Holy Wisdom we stand on guard for thee.