The subtext of this blog space is to focus on times and seasons. The Christian tradition is defined by prayer through the day (and night), by embracing saints’ days, by witnessing to the liturgical seasons.
All of these times and seasons tell stories about God’s gift of life and our response.
This poem from the book of Ecclesiastes provides the sentiment for this theme:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
We are presently in the kingdom season, that time between All Saints and Advent Sunday. The kingdom season is the last breath of the Christian year – its pinnacle – Christ the King. Remembering is a prominent theme of this season – remembering the lives of the saints, past and present; remembering the lives of those that we have loved and still love but see no longer. We are also asked to remember those who have lost their lives in conflict, in the hope of bringing peace and justice to the world. This is a difficult subject for any Christian taking seriously Jesus’ teachings, especially the commandment to love your neighbour as you love yourself! So, the kingdom season sees the person of Jesus as the one who brings the kingdom of God into a human reality but there are many obstacles to overcome before this is widely manifest.
The greatest difficulty, it seems, is the hard business of liking the people whom we find difficult to like, let alone loving them! War is, for some Christians, the antithesis of how the kingdom is to be fulfilled. Some Christians believe that the ethics of pacifism far outweigh any merit in military encounter and this debate will undoubtedly rage on. Whether we are pacifists or combatants, we can all take solace from the season of remembrance, marking the loss of humanity and reflecting on the cruelty of war.
War memorials are tributes to those who bravely gave their lives in the hope of peace and justice and harmony. They are not, however, monuments of peace. We remember the fallen because they have been killed as a result of aggression, the natural conclusion of a systematic intention to win a war, land, people and power. Summertown’s war memorial is situated in the church hall garden, alongside the Banbury Road. For those who are not acquainted with the geography of our parish, the church hall is separated from the church; about a 2 minute walk away. The garden has a high beech hedge protecting it from the road which is one of the main arteries into Oxford. It is not possible, therefore, to see the garden from the road, many pedestrians and road users would not necessarily have known that there was a garden there, let alone a war memorial. This year we are decorating the hedge with knitted poppies in order to promote the location of the hidden memorial to the wider public.
This Sunday we will take our time to remember, with gratitude, those who have lost their lives in conflict, especially in the world wars but also those in more recent campaigns. It is not possible to argue in this blog about the merits or de-merits of warfare. The arguments are finely tuned and nuanced. But I wonder where our personal and corporate prayers will take us as we process to the war memorial from church. When we hold the time of silence at 11am what will shape our theology, what images and words will we convey in our imagination? We will be deeply respectful; we will remember and we will share our experiences in the time of silence. As we file back into church for coffee we will be faced by the enduring image of Christ on the cross accompanied by his mother and beloved disciple. No greater conflict or battle was waged than on that hill outside Jerusalem. Such a public demonstration of love, of selflessness, of total sacrifice. And so a prayer might emerge from all of these killing fields which would simply say: Lord Jesus, lover of peace and reconciliation, have mercy upon us and bring us home to your kingdom where war and suffering is no more. Amen.
Sunday Services: 8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Remembrance Sunday Eucharist, including the laying of wreaths at the war memorial in the Summertown Hall Garden; 6.30pm Contemplative Prayer.
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