Remembrance Sunday

Preached by the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” 

Generations of Anglicans have known well these words of Job. They make up a part of the burial service, and have been repeated year on year in churches across the land, particularly in times of war. As the dead are buried, we are reminded of the fact of mortality, the destruction of the flesh. We all die. Yet the Church proclaims unceasingly the possibility of immortality, the resurrection of the body. By God’s grace and power, we all may live.

The words of Job, however, are rather more ambiguous in their original context and are not easily applied to resurrection. Rather than a confident statement of faith in the Lord of life, they are the cry of one afflicted, the cry of the desolate, the cry of the legendary sufferer, Job, who stands in for every person that has seen their life turned into a living hell. They are a cry for vindication, for justice.

O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock for ever!

Or, as we might put it: Oh that there were a record of my life, that my suffering and pain might never be forgotten, so that at the last, when I see God face to face, he must reckon with what has been done on earth, with what has been done to me. Job seeks vindication and eternal memory. No wonder, given all he endured, losing family, health, property. And no wonder, that we listen to his plea today, on Remembrance Sunday.

Our observation this morning is inextricably tied to the horrors of war in the 20th century, when so much of Europe and then the world were turned into “one great charnel house” (Blake, “Poetical Sketches”; see commission here), as the God-given genius of humankind went awry, becoming hellbent and devilish through its combination with pride, rage, revenge, and murderous ideologies and nationalisms. 

Just remember for a moment the dread accomplishments of that era: Over 120 million killed in war in one generation, with another 500 million or more killed by illness. Then, the trenches and the gas, the atom bomb, the concentration camps with their myriad tortures. No depravity went unseen, or unvisited upon soldier and civilian alike. And however just the causes of the Allies, however valiant and honorable the sacrifices of our soldiers, no war remains unsullied in its waging. The injustices stack up everywhere on every side. Even the victors become victims.

Who could comprehend, who could remember them all? No mortal, even though we inscribe the names in churches and on memorials in every city, town, and villages. And those generations that fought in or endured the wars so often could not speak about them. My grandfather, who was at Normandy aged 17, could never say a word about what he had experienced, not to his wife, not to his children. The unspeakable character of the horrors marked the last century. So Job’s voice sounds forth for himself and for us, for this our history, for this our remembrance. 

O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock for ever!

Oh, that there were a record, for then God would have to answer on the last day. He would have to answer the suffering of the innocent child or the bombed civilian; he would have to account for the wracked bodies of wounded veterans past and present, as we struggle to account for them or suffer in them. If God would answer, we would no longer feel we are crying to a silent and pitiless heaven.

The proclamation of Christian hope can seem naïve in the face of calamities like these. And, no doubt, there are naïve forms of faith, that do not give the problem of evil its due, that do not acknowledge the conundra of justice as we experience them. But the faith of Jesus Christ is anything but naïve. For it is the faith of the suffering servant, of the one who was slain but now lives forever. It is a faith that goes into the grave, into the torture chamber, into our sorrows, to transform all things and make them new. As our collect said, the will of our Almighty Father is “to restore all things in his well-beloved Son.”

I do not know how this is possible, how God will mend the rended bodies and nations, torn apart by sin. I do not know how the dissonances of history will resolve into one, glorious harmony. But I believe I have seen the power of our God, that I have experienced it in my bones. 

Yes, in my mind, I feel sometimes like one of the Sadducees, coming to test and torment Jesus with my questions and hard problems. Teacher, if there is to be a resurrection, how will it come about, and how will you resolve this or that? As if my mind could comprehend the answer. 

In my heart, too, like many of you I’m sure, there is great grief over tragedies that is not easily assuaged. It does not melt away with the passing years, but seems to grow, and I have done my fair share of fist-shaking at God. I expect I shall do more.

But in the very core of my being — my bones, my guts, my soul — I believe Christ, when he declares the power of God and the life of the age to come. For Christ’s teaching coheres with his experience, with the form of his life and of his people’s life. He speaks of what he knows. 

Our Lord has gone through death and hell, through the depths, and so he can speak a word of truth about their character, their weakness. He has been raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and so he can declare the coming kingdom and the power of God’s glory. And his Spirit has been at work in all the tragedies of history, renewing lives and communities. 

What I am saying is that there is an answer to Job, to his demand and ours, that there be a reckoning and a remembrance of every injustice. It is not precisely the answer he expected or we sometimes wish. The answer lies in an empty tomb, in the cross transformed from the tree of death into the tree of life. The answer lies in the body of Jesus Christ, pierced and wounded, scarred yet raised. The answer lies in the depths of the heart of the Almighty, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; [who] is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him, all of them are alive.”

Last Modified on 10th November 2019
This entry was posted in Sermons
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