Remembrance Sunday: 13th November 2022
‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
These memorable words refer to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD, which St Luke records Jesus as having prophesied perhaps some forty years previously. But it is almost certain that Luke’s gospel was written after Jesus’ prophecy had been fulfilled.
The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple was both catastrophic and transformative for first-century Judaism. It brought about the end of Judaism as a sacrificial religion with a priesthood and a temple cult, and also brought about the ascendency of the rabbinic tradition based on the synagogue which we are familiar with in our own day. And not only rabbinic Judaism, but also our own Christian faith emerged out of the ruins of Jerusalem and its Temple, the Eucharist being for Christians a bloodless sacrifice fulfilling the ancient temple cult.
The events that we remember this Remembrance Sunday were also in their own way both catastrophic and transformative.
The confidence of the Victorian age, the belief in progress through technological advance, the great optimism of the nineteenth century, all this was reduced to rubble by the great guns that blasted away for the long years of the Great War across the wastes of Belgium and northern France. The scientific and technological progress that had seemed to offer so much hope for humanity was turned instead to the service of brute force and power, and the lives of innumerable young men were crushed by the new possibilities of mechanised killing.
Catastrophic and transformative. Humanity had to come to terms with what had happened, not only materially and economically, but also emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and politically. After the Great War new social and artistic movements emerged, new lines of thought in politics, philosophy, and theology. Attempts were made at building new international institutions so that the horror could not be repeated.
But repeated it was, and yet worse, as the technological advances of the first half of the twentieth century meant that terror could now be rained down from the air, and civilian populations were dragged into conflict on a scale never seen before. Industrialised slaughter was pushed to new extremes in the concentration camps. And at Hiroshima and Nagasaki strange new terrors were unleashed.
Catastrophic and transformative. The world could never be the same again after Auschwitz, it could never be the same again after Hiroshima. Not one stone was left on another. Humanity wrestled with the scope of the evil of which it was capable. And humanity again attempted to rebuild a world in which such horrors would not be possible.
The second attempt was more successful than the first, and we in the West at least have been blessed to live in one of the most prosperous, stable, free and peaceful periods the world has ever known, built on the sacrifices of the wartime generations.
But as Christians we know that humanity has a dark side, a dark side which no institution or system is wholly capable of controlling or restraining. And so it is that so much of the political and social architecture of the post-war years has been slowly disintegrating through the twenty-first century, until now once again it is beginning to feel as though not one stone will be left upon another.
Once again our faith in technology as an engine of progress is shattered by the twin perils of climate change and nuclear war. All the advances of the industrial era, all the improvements in life expectancy and standards of living, everything our consumerist society considers worth having has been bought at a much higher price than we had bargained for. Again we face the most profound questions, but our hollowed-out and superficial culture is ill-equipped to answer them.
And yet these questions do have an answer. The details have to be worked out afresh in each generation, but the pattern is always the same. Where there is sacrifice, there is hope. Where people are prepared to give, to give for those they do not like or do not know; where people are prepared to offer themselves up for others; where people are prepared to defend what they love in battle; where people are prepared to work and toil for little reward to build the peace: where the desire to live for others can be found, where the willingness even to die for others can be found, there is hope. And the ultimate source of our hope is in the ultimate sacrifice, that full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, offered once for all upon the Cross for our redemption, and remembered and offered and shared in the holy mysteries we celebrate this and every Sunday.
As Christians we know that humanity has a dark side, we know that for all our cleverness and sophistication the swerve of the human soul towards evil is an ever-present threat. Our belief in Original Sin was once ridiculed by the great philosophers of secular progress, but now not one stone of their dreams and prophecies is left upon another. We do not know where the world is going.
We play our part, as we should, as we must, striving to stand for the love of God and for His justice and for His peace in our own small ways. But what gives Christians the strength to stand firm in every great unravelling of certainties that the world has known, from the tearing down of the Jerusalem Temple to the sack of Rome to the fall of Constantinople to the schisms and conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the horrors of the twentieth century to our own uncertain times, what gives Christians the strength to stand firm for justice and for love and for peace is simply the love of the One who has looked sin and death in the face and triumphed over them on the Cross. He will give us the wisdom, He will give us the words, and not a hair of our heads will perish.
So as we gather today to reflect in heartfelt gratitude on the sacrifices of previous generations, and on the sacrifices made on our behalf by others in our own generation, let us also reflect on the sacrifices we are called to make, and on that perfect sacrifice of Our Beloved Lord, to Whom with the +Father and the Holy Spirit be all praise and glory now and unto ages of ages.