Sermon for Sunday, November 8th, 2020.
Remembrance Sunday 2020
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.
Paul wrote those words to the Church in Thessalonica. It was one of his first letters. One of the first things that Paul wanted to make sure Christians got right, was how they looked at death. How Christians approach death should be something that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. Paul wants to make sure that the Christians under his care understand what Christ’s death and resurrection means to them as baptized followers of Christ. He wants to make sure that their approach to death doesn’t look like every other person on the street, because it shouldn’t.
People who claim to believe in a man that died and rose from the grave; people who believe in Christ’s promises to his followers; people who believe that a new kingdom and a new king are breaking into this world and overthrowing the forces of evil; people who have that hope have no business treating death like everyone else in the world. We need to talk about death differently. Our rituals need to approach death differently. We need to be informed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that we may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Because we have hope.
And Paul explains to that church in Thessalonica that their hopes about their loved ones are intimately connected to their hopes about Jesus. Do we simply gather as a church to remember what Jesus did and what Jesus said? I know that some people really do think that that is what church is about: to remember the teachings of a dead prophet, but is that really what the church is meant to be about, just remembering the past? Well, that doesn’t seem to be enough for Paul, because Christians can do better than just remember the dead, Christians can hope to see them again.
Christians don’t just remember a dead prophet, they worship a living son of God, that they believe is not only alive and living in a realm that cannot be seen, but is actually coming back into this realm in ways that can and will be seen. Jesus is not just a memory; he is a hope. He’s not just our past; he’s our future. And our hope for Christ should also be reflected in our hope for those who have died in christ: we aren’t just hoping to remember them, we are hoping to see them again. we can do more than just remember.
Yesterday, I preached at a funeral here. It wasn’t for a member of our parish, but it was for a Christian nonetheless. And I said to the family yesterday that memories can be a great comfort. It is good that we should share memories and talk about someone’s accomplishments and struggles. It is good for us to talk about our loved ones. God has given us the capacity to remember, God has commanded us to remember, so we should remember. But a memory will never comfort you as much, as a hope.
And our faith, is about hope.
We are Christians. We can do better than just remember the dead; we can hope to see them again. We can and must grieve differently than others that don’t have that hope.
Today we commemorate Remembrance Sunday. It is the second Sunday in November, the Sunday closest to November 11th or Armistice Day, which is now Veterans Day in the United States. Anglican churches throughout the world will remember those who fought and lost their lives in the First World War, and in every conflict afterwards. It is very common to hear in many civil and national, as well as religious, ceremonies on this day passages read from the Laurence Binyon poem “for the fallen.”
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Well I do think that it is good and noble and honorable to remember those who sacrificed everything so that we can have the freedoms we have and enjoy the lives we do. It is good for us to remember, but as Christians, in church, we can do more than just remember, we can hope. There is nothing particularly special about memory. Anyone on the street can remember. People of no faith can remember, and those memories may provide some comfort. But a memory will never comfort you as much as a hope. And we are called to be people of hope.
My hope, as a Christian, is that when that last trumpet sounds, whether I am dead or alive, I will be gathered together with all those that have died: the millions of soldiers that died fighting for what they believed was right, family members and friends, and yes, even enemies; my hope is that we will be gathered together and we will all go out to greet the very thing that we were hoping and dying for: Jesus. That is far more encouraging to me, than just having my name engraved on a plaque on the wall.
We should not be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died. We should not grieve as others do who don’t have this hope.
Our funerals cannot be simple “celebrations of life” that only talk about someone’s past and don’t proclaim that they have a future in Christ. Our Sunday worship cannot simply be a weekly recitation of Jesus’s wise words for living, without remembering that the man who commanded us to love one another, also informed and promised us that he would come again.
Memories are great, but a memory will never comfort you as much as a hope, and we have hope. Our faith is about hope. A lot of people don’t have that hope. If those civil, secular ceremonies can feel dry and dead to you, that’s because that’s exactly what they are. The world doesn’t believe in resurrection, but we do. Others grieve without hope, but not us. We have reason to hope. We have been informed about those who have died, and while much of life and death is still this wonderful, glorious mystery, while there is so much we still don’t know about what happens when we die, this much we have been told:
The Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.
That is our hope, To be with the Lord, with our loved ones, forever. That is our hope, but it’s not the world’s hope. Others do not grieve the way that we grieve. So when you meet those others as you go about your daily lives; when you meet individuals that are utterly convinced that it all ends in death, why don’t you do something truly radical and share the hope that you have with them?