Letter to parishioners, 12 November 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

This is a weekend of remembrance. Yesterday morning people across the country paused for two minutes of silence as those who have died in the service of this country were honoured. In both of our schools I have led times of reflection on the theme of remembrance and, yesterday, they came together to lay wreaths at our War Memorial. And, tomorrow we will gather in church and at our war memorials to honour the fallen. This is a weekend of remembrance.

In our readings this week we will hear of the hope that is found in the teachings of Jesus to espouse a life of Christian love, rather than human hatred and violence. It is not uncommon for us to hear these words of Jesus on Remembrance Sunday: No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends. Year after year I hear these words as though they are a vindication for the violence humanity inflicts upon itself. However, to take these words in isolation is to do them a serious injustice. Immediately before these words Jesus says: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. This extra sentence makes a great difference to the words we so often treat as a commandment in their own right.

The New Testament was written in a relatively simple form of classical Greek. That fact is important because of the way in which the concept of ‘love’ was handled by the Greeks in classical civilisation. In our modern times we use the word as a catch-all. We use the same word, ‘love’, about people, pets, places and food, amongst other things. The ancient Greeks were not so indiscriminatory in their use of the word. They acknowledged, through the use of different words, that there are different types of love. The word that is used whenever Jesus speaks of ‘love’ is agape. Rather than love of self, brotherly love, sensual love or love of country or inanimate objects, agape is an open, self-sacrificing kind of love; the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated as he hung on the cross for all people, for the whole of time.

Our human instincts lead us along the path which makes us want to remember, to celebrate … and to move on. The teaching contained within this week’s reading from John’s gospel calls us to re- evaluate those instincts. At this time of year we begin to see car stickers and posters that say something like: **** is not just for Christmas, it is for life. We would do well to remember that slogan as we pause to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in order that others might live in a better world. We would then do well to look around us and consider how we are really honouring their sacrifice by filling in the blanks with ‘love’, or whether we are simply making the same mistakes over and over again.

Within our Act of Remembrance there will be the traditional two minutes of silence. This short period of silence will be framed by two bugle calls: The Last Post and Reveille. As the first call leads us into silence let us set aside the mundane and self-serving in order that we might use that silence to look towards the new heaven and the new earth that John the Divine speaks off at the beginning of our other reading for tomorrow. Then, as Reveille sounds, let us step into the newness of lives that will follow the steps of Christ in true self-sacrificial love for all. In that way, let us truly honour all who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our futures.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen