Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2018
The high priest enters the holy place year after year, with blood that is not his own.
That is how the author of Hebrews described the sacrificial system in the temple in Jerusalem. In front of the holy place, the holy of holies, the high priest would offer regular sacrifices to God. The worship of God in the temple wasn’t just about prayer and song, it was a bloody affair. Because blood was sacred to the Jews. That is why Jewish dietary laws were very strict about consuming anything with blood in it. An animal’s blood, represents its life. Blood is life. I think that’s pretty easy for us to understand. But the blood that was being poured out before the holy place, was the blood of bulls, and sheep and goats. The high priest was sacrificing animals. And while the death of these animals would certainly have represented an economic loss to those who offered them, it was really the creature lying on the altar that was paying the highest price.
That, according to the author of Hebrews, is what makes Christ’s sacrifice so unique. Christ, as our great high priest, offers God his own blood. Christ sheds his ownblood for the protection and purification of his people. It is his ownlife, not the life of another, that is laid down on the cross. That is why Christ’s sacrifice, that is why his priesthood, is so powerful: because it reveals a love that is self-sacrificial; a love that defies reason. It demonstrates that love is more powerful than the instinct of survival. And that is something indeed.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
It is one thing to be willing to kill for someone; but it is another thing entirely to be willing to die for them. There are all sorts of things that can motivate us to kill, but being willing to give up your own life in order to save the life of another, that comes from a place very deep within us. It comes from a love that I think comes very close to the love of God. Especially the God of Jesus Christ.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The armistice ended active fighting on the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years ago today. That may seem like a long time, but is it really? In the grand scheme of things it’s not that long at all. We have a parishioner that was born just a few days later. One of the bloodiest wars the world had ever seen had come to an end, and what was left? Fields soaked with blood, the life-blood of a generation, and nations reeling and wondering: what just happened? How did this happen? Who is to blame? How do we stop this from happening again?
We think that we live in dark times now, but the truth is we can’t fathom the loss of life that those living during the First World War encountered. We can’t even confidently count the casualties. Estimates range as high as 15 to 17 million. Staggering losses. How do you begin to process that? How do you honor the sacrifice of a generation of young men killed in the prime of their lives?
It would be easy to get caught up in a political or military debate about the war. It would be easy to have intellectual arguments about who is to blame and how it might have been different; how it might have been prevented. And there is a time for those debates. Our respect for life and our longing for peace should lead us to have powerful and important discussions on preserving life and peace, but days like today are not the time for such arguments. We need to take a moment and put our questions and our judgments of leadership aside, and we need to honor the sacrifice that was made by so many, in good faith, so that others might live, so that we might be safe, and free.
In our readings today we are reminded of the power of sacrifice. We are reminded that our God is not the God of self-preservation, but is the god of self-sacrifice. Our God is a God that would willingly give his own life, shed his own blood, so that his beloved children might live. I find that God inspiring. That is the God that I worship. We worship a giving and forgiving God, that personally knows the power of sacrifice. We worship a God that doesn’t just take the blood and the lives of others, but offers his own blood and his own life for us. That my friends, is NOT the way of the world, but it is the way of our God. And this God of ours has been inspiring his children to risk everything for a very long time.
Today we honor all those who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the love and welfare of another. We remember soldiers and veterans, naturally, but we also need to remember, as our readings would suggest, the sacrifices of those at home. The widows, that not only lost a beloved spouse, but also proved themselves capable of sacrificing everything they have to live on, even their own lives, for the sake of a greater good; for the sake of something they love more than life itself. We have so much to learn from their examples. Yes, our ancestors certainly made some mistakes, but they also got some things right too. They were willing to sacrifice their food, their money, their power, their comfort and even their lives for the sake of something greater. I wonder if we could do the same?