This message was shared at our community Remembrance Day service in Mitchell, ON. The gospel lesson was John 15:12-17: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
We gather this day, on November 11th, as Canadians have gathered on this day now for generations; to honour and remember the men and women who have served and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict, and peace. We gather today to honour and remember the men and women who lost their lives while serving our country.
This year our day of remembrance is framed by two additional circumstances.
The first is that this year, 2014, marks 100 years since the beginning of the Great War – the First World War – a war that was so devastating it was called “the war to end all wars.” This centenary year has been a time for us as a nation to reflect more intentionally on that part of our history – to re-tell the stories of the men and women who supported the war effort; to remember the sacrifices that they made.
The second circumstance is one that has touched all of us deeply. This, of course, is the deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent on October 20th, and of Corporal Nathan Cirillo two days later on October 22nd. Two men who were killed only because of what they represented.
These recent deaths on Canadian soil, and the violence and conflict that we continue to witness around the world are stark reminders that God’s vision for peace on earth is far from realised, and that Jesus’ call for us to love one another is just as important as ever.
I’m always mindful that the words we heard from John’s gospel are words that Jesus speaks to his disciples on the final night they ever spent together – the night before Jesus is arrested by the authorities and taken off to be crucified. The disciples have no idea that this will be the last meal they share together; that these teachings will be the last words of wisdom they will receive from their teacher but it seems fairly clear that Jesus knows what will come next.
When Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” he already knows what lays ahead for him. And Jesus doesn’t fight it; he doesn’t try to escape. He doesn’t try to save himself by running away or putting up a defense. Jesus goes to the cross as one final act of love for not only his disciples but for the whole world – a world that he loves very much. A world that for Jesus, is so precious, so beloved, so full of potential that it’s worth dying for.
In his life and in his death, Jesus models a selflessness that’s not easy for us to imitate but as we gather here today to remember those who have made sacrifices for our country, I think it’s worthwhile to pause and think about it a bit more deeply.
Most of us will never be called on to put our lives on the line as our veterans and those who we remember today have done, but as citizens and residents of Canada we all have a calling to model some of that selflessness in our own way. We all have a duty to create communities that are safe and where people can live their best lives.
We honour the sacrifice and service of those we remember today when we sacrifice, when we lay down, something that is precious to us (our time, our money, our gifts) to help make life better for our neighbours, for our community.
We honour and remember their sacrifice when we take our citizenship and the rights and privileges that come with it seriously.
We honour and remember their sacrifice when we believe that our world, our country, our community is so precious, so beloved, so full of potential that it’s worth giving our very best.
Today we are thankful for all the men and women who serve our country; we remember and give thanks for those who lost their lives in service to our country. And we honour them by seeking to model some of that selflessness; by looking outside of ourselves, beyond our own needs, to build a country and a world where all people can live their best lives, in harmony and peace. AMEN.