“At the Going Down of the Sun, we will Remember.” by Mgr. Paul Watson

"At the Going Down of the Sun, we will Remember." by Mgr. Paul Watson

Sunday 13th November 2016

“At the going down of the sun, we will remember”
Friday was Armistice Day and at the 11th hour of the 11th month we stopped for 2 minutes silence in remembrance of those who died in the 2 World Wars as well as those who have died every year since in various arenas of conflict. It is interesting to learn, as I did very recently, that this last year has been the first time that there have been no deaths among the British Armed Services. Going back to Friday last week, I was present in St Benedict’s Primary School in Atherstone/Mancetter to share in a Service of Remembrance that they were holding. Apart from pausing on the stroke of 11am for the respectful silence, one key element of the Service involved children from each class bringing to the front, to create a tableau, a wreath of poppies and prayers. Instead of a wreath, some brought forward a Cross emblazoned with poppies. As a result, the centre of the final tableau, featured three such Crosses and surrounding wreaths.
I was immediately struck by the symbolism of the three crosses and asked the children what they thought and of what did it remind them. From among those eager to respond, one young girl said that it represented the place of Jesus’ death on the Cross between the two thieves. This was what was in my mind also. It also took me back 20 years or so to a time when I was a parish priest in Stoke on Trent and had been invited to take part in the Civic Remembrance Service in the Parish Church. The Lord Mayor was present as well as a large number of representatives of the various branches of the Armed Services. I had been invited to preach. I should mention that at about that time, in my own reading and study of the Scriptures, I was becoming more and more aware of so many incidents and characters of the Old Testament, who bore the imprint of Jesus and of his death and resurrection. I had in mind characters such as Joseph (almost put to death, but instead, sold into slavery by his brothers – and eventually became the saviour of his family, when the time of famine arrived; there were so many others: Moses – went through a sort of death, from which he was delivered, involving a basket on the Nile and the Pharoah’s daughter; then there was Achan – the one who was discovered to be stealing the booty, and was put to death as, perhaps, a representative of all who were doing the same, thus bringing about a restoration of Israel’s fortunes in the battles against the Philistines; the list goes on – Samson for example, not to mention other stranger incidents such as Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness; the near sacrifice of Isaac. Perhaps the most bizarre of all, and one which I only recently, through the insights of Pope Benedict, saw in a Christological light – the Covenant with Abraham and the firebrand passing between a line of divided carcasses!
In the light of all of these Old Testaments imprints of Jesus, I saw that the war dead that we were remembering also bore the imprint of Jesus. In the first place, they gave their lives in sacrifice for the sake of our freedom – a freedom from oppression (military, political etc.), from dictatorship and bullying. Their self-sacrifice mirrored that of Jesus. His self-sacrifice was, in the first place, a surrender to the will of the Father, and brought about the liberation of the human race from the grip of the Evil One, and from the power of sin, which gained power through dominance of self-will within every member of the human race. The liberation Jesus brought was not simply a freedom from these oppressions, but enabled a new kind of freedom. It gave us the freedom to be in the same relationship with the Father that Jesus himself enjoyed, and furthermore, freed us to place our lives under the Father’s will each day – “thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”
I realised also that the members of the Forces, not only gave their lives in self-surrender, but along with their brothers and sisters also lived under the discipline of the of the branch of the Service to which they belonged. In other words, they not only died but lived through surrendering their self-will to the will of others (their officers, their leaders, to King/Queen and country, and in many cases, ultimately, to God). In this way, irrespective of their motives, or of their faith or otherwise, they carried the imprint of Jesus, who lived through surrendering his own will, and whose food and life was to do the Father’s will.
Ever since, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday has been for me, another means of entering more deeply into the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The link between the war-times sacrifices and the Old Testament, throws a great deal of Christological light on both. In fact, I feel that, understood in this sort of way, we might be led to a greater holding of the Old Testament itself “in Remembrance”. In our times, sadly, we seem to have lost much sense of the immense value of the Old Testament and barely think of reading it, except in Church, and then with a degree of reluctance, or at the very least, extreme puzzlement – apart from a few favourite passages!
But there is one further thought that has struck me today! The sacrifice that was made by those we are remembering, was a sacrifice for freedom. The sacrifice of Jesus was also a sacrifice for freedom. They were not, however, made so that we might simply live in any way we feel like. They did not die, simply so that we could live in the world to serve ourselves – to do my own will. Yes, they lived and died for to set us free – but the freedom they lived and died for is a “freedom for’ not simply a “freedom from”. Their example, clearly reveals a freedom from the dominion of “self”, and also exemplifies a freedom to love and serve others. And ultimately, the sacrifice Jesus made gives us the freedom to love and serve the will of the Father.
I am challenged by the question: in what way does my life bear the imprint of Jesus? In what way do I live the freedom from the domination of my self-will – dying to self, in order to be conformed to the likeness of Christ; indeed, dying with Christ on a daily basis? In what way do I live the freedom to seek and do the will of the Father each day, as Jesus did. This, in fact, is precisely the way, during this life, of sharing in the resurrection life of Jesus. But do I seek the Father’s will each day? Do I let the Father reveal himself and his will to me in and through the Scriptures each day – or through any other means (the liturgy, spiritual reading, looking at the circumstances and events of my life in the light of the will of the Father …)? On the other hand, it is also an aspect of living under the Father’s will that we let go of sin, not least the sin of other’s against us – which can lead to resentment and anger. Anger seems to be the order of the day at the moment – think of what is being stirred up at the moment regarding Brexit, the US election, immigration, etc., etc. When we allow anger in all of these areas to be our preferred option – it is certainly the easiest – how can we say that we are living under the Father’s will; being conformed to Christ or bearing his imprint? How indeed, are we living the life, for which Jesus, so many others too, gave his life?
We have much to remember – and it becomes an examination of conscience “at the going down of the sun”!