Friday, November 9, 2007

Greater Love hath No Man than This: A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Sermon Preached on Remembrance Sunday, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 15:12-17

“I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” --John 15:17

What shall we do for love? To what does love drive us? How shall we show our love? Love is commanded by our Lord, and each of us, in our own way seek to live out the call to “love one another, as I have loved you.” Sometimes our different understandings of what it means to love, or what we do for love, or how we show our love, can lead to conflict amongst us. Even more poignantly, it may often lead to conflict within each person’s own heart and conscience. Each year, as we prepare to remember those who have fallen in battle, I find myself deeply conflicted – conflicted by our Lord’s promise to lead us into the way of peace and the continual call we face in our world to take up arms against injustice and tyranny that is contrary to the peace and justice of God. I find myself conflicted because I think that both those who lay down arms and those who take up arms often do so out of a sense of love. Both gestures will surely involve sacrifice and the giving over of self, possibly to the utter loss of self. Both gestures may, indeed, find themselves firmly rooted in this very gospel, “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

A couple of years ago, I was in a parish in which there were three “sons of the parish” fighting in Afghanistan. One was a nurse, another a military police office, and the third a gunner. One was killed. And at the same time that we were praying for them, and all members of our military, we were also praying for James Loney and the other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team who were held hostage in Iraq. One of them was ultimately killed. I recall standing and praying the prayers of the people in which we remembered all of these individuals, each acting out of the same call to love, the same sense that there is no greater love than that one should lay down one’s life for friends. The same love; lived out in very different actions. And would I dare say whose love was greater? I cannot, I dare not.

It would seem to me that each was driven by a call to do the greater good: a call to end injustice in the world; a longing for the end of violence; a passion to work for the perfect day when war shall be no more, when pain and suffering shall be no more, when mourning and crying shall be no more. Who amongst us cannot admire the courage and the sacrifice of any who shall risk their lives, or ultimately, make the supreme sacrifice for the sake of his or her friend?

At the heart of the sacrifice, whether the soldier who offers him or herself in battle, or the peacemaker who stands between blaring rifles, is the shared hope and longing that we may somehow be reconciled with those from whom we are estranged. Each earnestly desires love over hate, and peace over war. The hope and longing of either the soldier or the peacemaker is that in the act of vulnerability and risk, we might find a way through to a better world. That in offering up ourselves, others might live.

In our Lord, we find the pattern of this desire, and ultimately its fulfillment. Our Lord came to unite the estranged in brotherhood, in sisterhood, in friendship. In him we learn not only the example to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, but also the example to pray for those who hate us. As he gave up his life as a ransom for many, he expected “the many” to be, not only his friends, those who followed him, fickle as they were, but those who despised him, those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In Christ, we meet the supreme reconciler, the one who reconciles all things to each other, to himself, and to his Father in heaven. Each of us, in Christ, shares in this ministry of reconciliation.

The soldier and the peacemaker, each offer themselves in risk, in vulnerability – each willing to lay down their lives. But is it the violence of life offered up that brings reconciliation? Is it the death itself that will bring peace? No. It is the love with which a life is offered. It is the love of friend, and indeed enemy in which the life is offered that has the power to transform. It is not the death of Jesus that brings us to new life, but the love of Jesus in his self-offering, even unto death. Our salvation is in the fact that God became human and that in the Incarnation divine love became human love in order that human love might become divine. And in this offering of love, we become friends – friends of God, and friends to each other, those who love us, and those who hate us.

Today, as we remember before God all who offered their lives in the midst of human conflict, we do so not glorifying death but recalling the love with which such sacrifices have been made. And we do so with the hope that all humanity might be reconciled and united in divine friendship, no longer strangers, but brothers and sisters as children of the new creation.

Copyright 2007, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. The sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means without the express written persmission of the author.

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