At the end of Mass today, as on every Remembrance Sunday, we will go to the Calvary Garden. There we will stand beneath the image of our Crucified Lord. This Crucifix was set up in the aftermath of the First World War, to remember and to count the bitter cost of lives lost from our community. I suspect there was little thought then about all those further conflicts that we continue to mark, and mourn over.
The sad truth, of course, is that this memorial has become the place where we remember year on year humanity’s inability to live in peace with each other; to take stock of the damage we inflict on our world by our greed and careless-ness, to take in the reality of our situation, but then to give thanks for, and pray for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our future, and learn from their courage.
We are about to offer once more Christ’s ‘one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” And true to that faith our forebears decided that it was only by raising up a symbol of Christ Crucified, the representation of that perfect sacrifice of love, to be our place of remembrance, which could provide us with any means of making sense of past hurt, and offering us any chance of redeeming the harm we continue to do to each other, personally, globally, and environmentally.
Each Sunday at the close of the Mass we commit ourselves not only to renewing of our personal lives, but also to take collective action as God’s people in the building up of the Kingdom of God, His reign of justice and peace. Each year on this day at the Calvary we commit ourselves once more to “ strive for all that makes for peace, the healing of the wounds of war and aggression, working for a just future for all humanity.”
The Old Testament reading from Daniel, and the words of Jesus in the Gospel bear the same character. Traditionally this last declaration of Jesus in the temple before his arrest and execution is called Mark’s Little Apocalypse, which is what The Book of Daniel is as well. An Apocalypse is a disclosure, an opening out of something covered up before, a revelation of hidden knowledge. One commentator calls these apocalypses a “vision of heavenly secrets that will make sense of earthly realities”.
That is what Jesus is about when he speaks to that inner group of Disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John, in this morning’s Gospel- making sense of earthly reality, what is happening for us now. The disciples are bewildered by the sudden turn of events, the excitement of the crowd expecting revolution, but also the rising hostility of the religious leaders. When the world seems to be overwhelmed by war, political chaos and natural disaster, people of faith, often facing persecution, ( and that was the case both when the Book of Daniel was written, and when Mark’s Gospel was put together) would resort to creating a message of hope for the faithful. The book ascribed to Daniel was probably not written until 200 years before Christ when Judaism was under threat from a rabid monarch, eager to destroy Jewish culture and belief. Daniel is told that Michael the Archangel, Israel’s heavenly champion, would come with his armies to save them. This message was meant to assure the people of God that, despite all appearances, all was safe within the hands of God, who had firm plans for the salvation of his chosen ones. It is no accident that it is in this time of trial that we encounter the first explicit thoughts within Judaism of the resurrection of the righteous to everlasting life, and reward.
Again in the Gospel Jesus warns the four about what is to come, but then offers them hope. “Do not be alarmed.” We are to trust in the good purposes of God, who will bring our history to fulfilment.
Mark gathered together Jesus’ final sayings and warnings in that last week in Jerusalem – when he warns his followers that they have not read the signs of the times. They must be vigilant for danger, and persevere in the face of persecution if needs be. Mark moulds this bundle into a brief, but powerful Apocalypse of his own. He tells us that Jesus is now revealed as the Messianic King, come to destroy the powers of evil, to call the wicked to account, to redeem the righteous, and to restore creation to its original beauty and order. He comes to make clear that the fabric of the universe was founded on, and only continues to thrive on, compassion and concern for the other. The last enigmatic twist to Mark’s Gospel. with its account of the empty tomb, announces that the new age of salvation has dawned, but only through self-offering.
The letter to the Hebrews this morning speaks of the new energy, hope and direction that this new age brings in. By his sacrificial death, and his triumph over evil and death, their Risen Lord now offers to humanity a new and living way forward. This confidence is there in this letter, despite the fact that the Christian community was beginning to face increasing danger. This letter is full of encouragement- It asks us to encourage one another in the face of their struggles. Not seeing our support for our worship and fellowship as optional, but as necessity, We are not here just for ourselves, but for each other.
William Temple, our wartime Archbishop says, “The world can only be saved from political chaos and collapse by one thing only, and that is worship” Ken Leech, one of our church’s great 20th C prophets enlrages on that “Liturgy is both a sacred act, and a counter cultural ( or we might say revolutionary) activity. It points both upward in adoring love to God, and outwards in disaffiliation from the disorder and illusion of the world. It seeks to create and manifest the life of the world to come in the midst of the present chaos…It is an act of yearning, of striving, of anticipation of a new world. Liturgy is inherently and deeply political in its testimony against idolatry and oppression.”
Together, at the altar, at the cross “We can have confidence.” Being part of this community reassures us that “ We have the full assurance of our faith,” because “ He who has promised us is faithful.” Despite our failings if we desire to work for change and ask forgiveness God will cleanse us of past failings., “I will remember their sins and lawlessness no more.”
Jesus had a stark, and realistic warning for his disciples that the arrival of God’s reign will not be without conflict and sacrifice, but this is tempered, and given a wider perspective in the light of Jesus’ resurrection- the first sight of the promised resurrection of the righteous that the people of God were longing for. The one who died a shameful death now sits in glory, and His followers now share in the anointing of the Spirit, becoming Priests of the new creation, commissioned to continuing Christ’s work of breaking down those barriers we constantly construct against God and each other.
Today we remind ourselves that it was this self-forgetting that our present is founded on. The epitaph we hear each year after the 2 minutes silence was engraved on the memorial to those who gave their lives in Burma in the Second World War, but the same legend already appeared after the First World War in France at a military cemetery. “When you go home Tell them that for your tomorrows we gave our today.”
In todays scripture readings we are assured that the Christ who hung upon the cross is also the risen and ascended Lord. His community is to continue his work of bringing in his Fathers reign of justice, peace, and the integrity and wholeness of creation.
Once again today we will stand in that public space before the Cross, to declare to the world, and to remind ourselves, of the worst that we have done, but also to recommit ourselves to the task of putting things to rights, restoring the world to the way it ought to be. And standing there we are assured that God Himself stands alongside us in all that we endure, and all that we hope for. The fruits of that sacrificial commitment that God himself made to us on that Cross will bear fruit in us- the destruction of evil and the bringing in of peace.
William Temple describes the wounds we gaze on at Calvary as ‘Christ’s credentials to the suffering human race.’ It was this solidarity of God with us in all that we endure that inspired Temple’s tireless determination to transform our social, educational, and labour systems. He writes,“ Only a God in whose perfect Being pain has its place can win and hold our worship.” And we might add it is only a God who shares our pain, and redeems it, who can point us forward into hope and renewal.
In a collection of essays on John’s Gospel Temple quotes a poem, written in the aftermath of the first World War, by Edward Shillito, in a collection entitled ‘Jesus of the scars.’ Once again it proclaims that any credible future must be built upon our compassion and self-forgetting, learning from the self-offering of others, but above all the self-offering of God himself .
“ The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak. They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne. But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”