We Shall not Sleep

November 8, 2020

Psalm 78: 1-7, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18, Matthew 25: 1-13 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. Beginning in 1919, one year after the Great War ended, nations have observed November 11th, and the anniversary of the armistice that took place on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, when the guns spoken of by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in Flanders Fields finally stopped. In remembering both the tragedy of war and our thankfulness to those who served, we pause this day, from all that is going on around us: To Remember To Give Thanks And, here, in this church, as followers of Jesus Christ, we pause also to contemplate the promises of Christ and what these promises mean both for those who have given their lives in sacrifice, and what they mean for those of us who stand here in remembrance of these acts. What do these sacrifices mean for us? For our lives, our freedoms, and for us as Christian witnesses? The reality of war is, of course, a difficult thing for any person of peace to ponder. How can such things happen? How can nations lift up arms to kill their neighbours? And after it is all over, after the bombs have ceased, after the full realization of what has happened becomes clear, how can we go on afterwards? These questions are difficult enough as they are, but how do we as Christian witnesses, as people of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, how do we make sense of all of this? At first glance, the Christian Way and the Christian Life may not seem to have much to say to war, to its horrors, or to its difficult questions, and yet Christ does have something to say to those people who have served and who have died. To those who have shown the greatest act of Christian love—in laying down their lives for their friends. As followers of Jesus Christ, as Christian People, we try to live our lives in the footsteps of one who went willingly to death for the salvation of others. We live our lives telling and hearing over and again the story of one who spoke peace in the midst of His own persecution, one who spoke love to those who hated him, one who spoke hope in a world that seemed to have given up on it. And most importantly of all, we tell and we remember the story of this one, this Jesus, who when He finally fell into the hands of those who would take his life, He went willingly in order to show the world a hope that could never be put out. In our Christian Remembrance In our Remembrance of Jesus In our Remembrance of our saviour We remember and we point to what is truly important. Not the politics, nor the particulars of His death, not even the execution itself, but rather what these things point to: the hope that Jesus has won for us on the cross. The hope of a world where one would willingly lay down His life for many. And the hope of the eternal life that this sacrifice has purchased for us. Friends, we may be tempted to say that Christ and his church have nothing to say to war or to death, and yet we would be wrong. We would be wrong in thinking that Christ cannot work through death, that He cannot redeem it; for indeed, as we know, death is precisely the place where Christ did His most incredible work. The realities of war are indeed ugly: the warring of the nations, the death of guilty and innocent alike, and yet, this is precisely the place where our Christian salvation is found. That is a paradox, but a life-giving one to be sure. As Christian people, we are called to know and to remember death. Not to celebrate it, not to make it our friend, but to know and to remember it. 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. Being a Christian in a world ignorant of sacrifice and death is not an easy thing. It is not easy to carry the cross, to remember Christ in all that we do, as the rest of the world passes by in blissful ignorance of how they have been saved. It is easier to ignore than to remember. It is easier to pass by the saviour (or the veteran) than to stop and say “thank you”. It is easier to pretend that we will never again struggle with war and with death as humanity always has. But what is easy is rarely what is right. And this is no exception. Today, we observe Remembrance Day by remembering what would be easier to ignore. To remember war in all of its frightening reality To remember on whose sacrifices we stand. To remember what has happened before us and the difference it still makes in our lives. To remember that though we spend our lives avoiding even speaking about it, death is not beyond God’s power to redeem for the sake of salvation. In the section that we have read this morning from the Apostles’ first letter to the church in Thessalonica, we hear their teachings on death. And you can actually hear in their words, the life-giving paradox that is Christian death: the fact that for believers in Jesus Christ, death is both difficult and yet redeemed. 13 [W]e 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. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. Here the apostles speak hopefully and assuredly into death: Make no mistake! Do not be uninformed! Those believers who have died have indeed died! (Just as Christ truly died before them) And yet we know Jesus both died and rose again. Even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have died. 16 For 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. This is the promise. That when the Lord returns at the end of time, When the archangels call and when God’s trumpet is heard, When the Lord descends from heaven, The dead in Christ will rise first! Think of what this means for us today. On this Remembrance Sunday. Think of what this great promise means: That as Jesus Christ, the Son of God is sure to descend from heaven at the end of history. As He comes back to complete His victory over death and to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. The dead in Christ, those who have died already, will be the first to rise and meet Him Imagine what this will mean for those who have made the sacrifice we remember today. For those veterans buried in their family plots, and for those who never made it home For those lost at sea For those buried in the battle fields For the thousands lost at Vimy, at Dieppe, and the Somme Those now dead in Christ, those who died in service to others, those who are waiting to rise with Christ will be the first to rise with Christ. This is our Christian faith and hope on Remembrance Sunday. That though they have died. Though they gave their lives and we shall never forget them In Christ, they will rise again And not only that, but that in Christ they will be the first to rise This is our Christian faith and hope of redemption on Remembrance Sunday. When Christ Himself taught about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, he compared it to ten bridesmaids; 5 foolish and 5 wise. Now, while all ten bridesmaids brought their lamps with them, on their way to see the bridegroom, only the wise took flasks of oil to refill their lamps. At the time that the bridegroom finally appeared, the oil in the lamps was going out, and the foolish bridesmaids pleaded with the wise to share some oil with them. When the wise refused, the five foolish bridesmaids hurried to buy more, but when they came back, both the wise bridesmaids and the bridegroom were gone. Jesus’ teaching is sure and simple: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” You know neither the day nor the hour that the bridegroom, Christ, will return You know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man will descend from heaven You know neither the day nor the hour when the dead will rise to greet and celebrate with Christ above us You know neither the day nor the hour when Christ will call those who have sacrificed themselves for others, and will call them home before all others The teaching is sure and simple “Keep awake therefore” It may happen as we speak 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 now dead in Christ Those now dead through their sacrifices These shall not sleep for long Not because we will forget them But because Christ will not allow them to sleep forever Christ is coming As sure as we live and are alive in Him, Christ will come again in Glory. To awaken those who are asleep, and to bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven. As Christian people we know these things by faith and we remember the promises made to them and to us. On Remembrance Sunday we re-commit ourselves to the faith we have for those who have fallen; the faith that John McRae calls on us to maintain: To remember the realities of war and death To remember those who served and died To remember our Christian hope that Christ died and yet came again as proof of our own salvation in Him And that we ourselves are called by the apostles to remember this hope and this faith and this commitment That we will not break faith, either with those buried in Flanders fields, or with the one buried in the now empty tomb And that, when Christ comes again in Glory, they will be the first to rise and meet Him. We remember all of these things. In the name of the one, and in the names of the many, who died that we might live. Amen.