Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day – November 10, 2019

There is a beautiful poem called ‘On Flanders fields’, by the Canadian serviceman John McRae, which has for ever enshrined the image of the red poppy as a symbol of the carnage of the first world war.   McRae was born in Ontario, but had close ties here in Montreal, having worked at the McGill Medical Centre and the Montreal General Hospital.  He wrote:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

And so it is that many people at this time of year are wearing the red poppies as a mark of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in the first World War, and by extension subsequent wars.  And also take time to think and pray and commit to work for peace.

And every year, there are controversies about whether we should be wearing these poppies, whether red is the right colour, whether by wearing them we are glorifying war, and many other sentiments that really have no place at the point in the year when – regardless of our views and beliefs – we cannot but acknowledge that millions representing the whole of human diversity died, many unnecessarily, a consequence of the power games of a few, so that our way of life might be sustained.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

I was born in Flanders, and had many opportunities to visit the military cemeteries which are still there today. They are many, and so are the graves with crosses and stars of David and muslim symbols, reminders of the many lives – each infinitely precious – lost in the brutality of war, on both sides of the conflict.

And today is a day to remember them, to acknowledge the sacrifice they made as they sought to serve their countries and the greater good, sacrifice from which we still benefit today.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Those who died in the Flanders fields could not have imagined the world in which we live today, a world where conflicts are thankfully mostly no longer waged on the battlefields they knew, with the stench of trenches, the fear of gas and bombs and the  incalculable loss of life.  And the quarrels are no longer the same either.  Those who quarrelled then eventually managed to become friends, those who were friends then have become foes, and the quarrels are now in different quarters, using different means – whether economic or cybernetic – but always with the threat of disruption to life..

So there is still a task to be done of watching and working for peace, and that task they passed on to us.  And so it is for us to catch that torch and hold up high – not only in their memory, but also for the future of our world as we know it.

Today, in this Cathedral, the regimental chapel to the Canadian Grenadier Guards, we honour those who lost lives, and we salute those who have caught on the torch and contribute to the peacemaking in the world today.

Our first reading from the prophet Haggai gives us a little bit of perspective on the ways in which we, human beings have so been focused on wealth and property, that the pursuit of those has often been for us a good enough excuse to fight.

The passage we heard relates to the rebuilding of the second Temple at Jerusalem, but it also speaks very powerfully of the kingdom of God beyond the walls of any buildings.

The prophet reminds humanity that all on earth belongs to God, silver, gold, and everything that there is.  And all those possessions of God can not only adorn the new temple that was being built then, but more importantly be shared to serve all of God’s creation and people.  When we acknowledge that the world resources are not ours alone, then God can bring peace to all of us.

This is a tough message for all of us in the west, who in history have been so used to take all that we can from the planet to make our lives better, without any thought for the consequences on those whose we resources we took.

Our Gods of wealth and self-fulfilment were more important than the other children of God, and so – often with the help of armies – we plundered their resources and wealth.

Our second reading from the letter of the apostle Paul to the people of Thessaloniki, in Greece, reminds us of the unconditional love that God has for all God’s people, for all of us.

And God seeks to bring out the best of all of us, and invites us to play a part in God’s divine plan.

We are to be watchers, aware of the dangers to peace around us, active peacemakers wherever we can be, wherever we are, that love and concord may prevail, and that the peace of God may reign – not in an unspecified future left to others – but under our watch, in this, our generation.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly. 
Amen

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