32nd Sunday – (A) 2020 – Remembrance Sunday, St George’s Cathedral

Dear Friends

A few years ago I visited the small Greek island of Leros. It’s part of the Dodecanese chain of islands that sit snugly in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey. Travelling north from the island’s capital, the road curves around the bay. It brings you, eventually, to a small village called Alinda beside a sandy beach. Set back from the road, away from the swimmers and sunbathers, the tall cross of a cemetery rises above the trees.

During the World War II, Leros was the site of bloody fighting and the cemetery testifies to its impact. As you walk through the iron gates, rows of white gravestones stand before you. One hundred and eighty three in total, all neatly set out around the cross. Local Greek gardeners keep the grass trimmed and the paths swept. The grave inscriptions give names and ages, or sometimes just ‘A Soldier of the 1939-45 War.’ Some of those who gave their lives are startlingly young.

There’s a visitors’ book in a cupboard set into the cemetery wall. People from around the world have written sentiments of remembrance and respect. The most moving are from relatives who made the journey to see where their loved one is buried. In heartfelt simplicity they write of their deep love, expressing gratitude for such selfless service and ultimate sacrifice. As we do today, they affirm that those who have died will never be forgotten. They make known their prayerful petitions, as we do today, that God might grant them eternal rest and peace.

Scenes like this are repeated across Europe and around the world. Waves of gravestones mark the final resting places of people killed in action – from all nationalities and sides – with some resting places sadly unknown. How we need to learn and re-learn the wisdom of peace. In the face of so much violence and hatred, how we need to keep the flame of peace burning brightly. To quote famous words, those who cannot remember the past, those who fail to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.[1] Peace begins in the heart of each one of us, towards our families and communities, towards the ‘other’ whoever they happen to be.

In this Requiem Mass, on a very different Remembrance Sunday than normal, we pray for all who have died because of warfare. In particular, we pray for the men and women of our armed forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, and subsequent conflicts, including those of recent times up until our own day. In a personal way, we pray for those from our own families, our own parishes, and our communities. We do remember them. We do pray for them. We will not forget them.

Even in pain and sorrow, Christians do not grieve as people without hope. We have a hope in the Lord Jesus. We believe that He died and rose again, offering us a share in His life that will never end. It is the Lord Jesus who shouldered our sins on the cross. It is the Lord Jesus who took our faults upon Himself, so our death might be destroyed and our hope of eternal life be fulfilled. In Christ we are, and can be, forgiven and reconciled. He is gentle and humble of heart. He offers rest for our souls. On this Remembrance Sunday, and in this month of the Holy Souls, how important it is to remember the hope we have in Jesus Christ. In the power of His mercy we find peace. New life flows from His empty tomb. None of us knows the day or the hour when our earthly life will end, or how it will end; but hope in Christ sustains how we live and how we die. We have a hope in the Lord Jesus.

Pope Francis reminds us that when we look at the cross of Christ we see God’s reply to violence and death: ‘violence is not answered with violence’ he says; ‘death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken.’[2]

In 2015, not long before I moved to London, I visited the ‘Poppies: Wave’ at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was composed of hundreds of ceramic poppies taken from a larger display at the Tower of London to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. The Yorkshire ‘Poppies: Wave’ stretched from a river bridge into the water. The day I visited, I overheard a teacher speaking to a group of students: ‘the question is’ he said ‘do you think these poppies are falling down or rising up’ – ‘are they falling down or rising up.’

Millions have ‘fallen’ because of the tragedy of war. Christ’s rising victory over death means we remember them with the certainty of hope. A wave of poppy red blood flowed from the pierced side of Christ. This then is our prayer: that by, and through, His wounds our faithful departed, are mercifully ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,

and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen

[1] Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana-1905). In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said (paraphrased), ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

[2] Pope Francis, Homily for the Vigil of Prayer for Peace, 7 Sep 2013.