Remembrance Sunday – 3rd before Advent Matthew 25: 1 -13
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Remembrance Sunday draws human beings together in a way that’s unique. Both young and old gather together across the nation, some with memories of wars in the past, some who are affected by current conflicts. But we can gather to reflect and remember allowing some aspect of the reality of war to touch us. Whatever the memories or knowledge of war is, in the two minutes silence of Armistice Day we in our hearts remember the cost of war its sacrifice and its shame and pray for the victims of war.
Sadly war and conflict is not confined to the history books. We turn the TV news and hear of acts of war and violence in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. The acts of terror that have taken place on holiday beaches in Tunisia, in Paris, In Austria in London and in Manchester and sadly the story will continue.
In the Gospel this morning Jesus tells the Parable of Judgement. Some are foolish and some are wise, and we hear the cry: “Our lamps are going out!”
This a parable is about the resources we need as human beings: What kind of resources allows us to be properly human under God and answer the promise made at the end of the first War – Never Again.
The Ten Bridesmaids, represent the expectant Christian community as they wait the return of Christ (the Bridegroom) and the day of judgement. It challenges us to make sure that we have trimmed our lamps and that we have plenty of oil.
We must strive for peace, on a worldwide perspective and on a personal level.
War almost never ends in peace: at least, not in the kind of peace where two former enemies embrace one another and sincerely wish one another well. No, war must end in defeat for one and victory for the other. Even externally brokered truces or ceasefires are usually only a chance to regroup and rearm; to fight again another day, until eventually one of the sides gives up, falls apart, and can no longer fight. In spite of hearing of wars and rumours of wars on a regular basis, we still need to pray for peace and the peacemakers.
Peace always starts on a personal level. It means that we need to try to make it a practice never to do something with intent to hurt another person, no matter what the provocation. Even harder if someone has wronged us but we should still strive to be peaceful and not hurtful to a person’s face or behind their back and this includes that trap called gossip. Of course we are human and frail and we know we do hurt others and there is that need to make peace with individuals and with God. It seems that sorry is the hardest word to utter at times like these.
Jesus says that when someone offends you, pray for them; call down God’s blessing upon them and be willing to go first: to extend the hand of forgiveness and friendship, again and again and again.
I am reminded of the beautiful story of Corrie Ten Boon. During the 2nd world war her family hid Jews in their small shop in Amsterdam. Corrie and her family were caught, and ended up in a concentration camp. Corrie’s father and her sister died in this ordeal. After the war she travelled the world telling her story. In America she was introduced to a man who she recognized as a guard from the concentration camp. He had become a Christian and offered her his hand. Corrie immediately prayed, she couldn’t forgive him. Without warning her arm flew out and met his. That is the power of Christ’s love and forgiveness, and in that power is where the healing lies. This is where peace will begin to flow.
The gospel message puts this into perspective. How many of us are willing to pray ‘your kingdom come; your will be done and then put it off until another day? Jesus wants us to be ready. There were 10 bridesmaids and they were all invited. There isn’t any suggestion that the foolish ones were bad people only that they had neglected to do that which was required of them. All they had to do was to make sure that they had oil for their lamps, but they didn’t bother. We might make excuses for not saying our prayers for peace and not being willing to offer the hand of peace when we feel wronged. This parable tells us there will come a day when it will be too late. Pablo Picasso said, ‘Never put off today anything you do not want to leave undone for ever’. Our calling is to be people of peace, turning the other cheek, loving our neighbour as ourselves and loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
It is hard to understand the evil of war, to understand the beheadings and executions that have occurred, the evils of the Holocaust. Watching the Invictis games we see the effects of conflict on men and women. The cost of war is great indeed and we return to that cry Never Again. On the 11th and this morning we remember the sacrifice of so many in the two world wars and in the pain and suffering that continue in today’s conflicts.
The gospel message is the healing power and forgiveness in God’s love, the coming of the Kingdom of God, for the long-hoped-for future of justice, peace, mercy and truth. In our acts of remembrance we need to commit ourselves to living out the power of Christ’s love and spreading His peace. As we remember those who died and were injured in war we honour them for their sacrifice. We remember the past, we pray for the present and above all we hope for the future.