A Homily for All Souls and Remembrance, 2010
Sunday, November 7th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 11:21-27
“Lord , if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Today, the threads of three different commemorations are woven together.
First we celebrate the feast day of All Souls, a time when we remember before God all those who have gone before us into the presence of God and whom we shall meet again when we all share in the Resurrection of the dead. While we remember all those who have been near and dear to us and our now on that other shore, we remember in particular those who have gone to the arms of Jesus in this past year. And so as we read those names later in the context of the Holy Eucharist, the tenderness of our hearts will certainly be touched in a special way. While it is a time to mourn our losses, it is also a time to celebrate our hope in Christ that we shall see them again in glorious resurrection bodies, with sure and certain hope that death is not the final story for them, nor for us.
A second thread, so closely woven together with the first, is the theme of Remembrance. We come to today solemnly remembering and giving thanks for those who made that ultimate sacrifice, who laid down their lives for their friends. We remember also those who offered themselves and came home, but came home forever changed. We remember even our enemies who fell in battle and lament the circumstances that made us enemies. We remember the innocent victims of all human conflict and pray to God that he will ever hold before us a different and better way. We remember our troubled past in all its moral ambiguity.
The final thread before us is the example of St. Martin of Tours, an ancient French saint who died in the year 397. It is one of the striking convergences of our secular and ecclesiastical calendars that Remembrance Day and his feast day both fall on November 11th. St. Martin was a Roman solider by profession, possibly a conscript. At some point in his early life Martin was converted to Christianity, and while he was still a catechumen (that is, one preparing for baptism) he met a poor beggar on the road. The beggar implored him to clothe him, so Martin cut his soldier’s cloak in two and gave one half to the beggar that he might be clothed. Later Martin had a vision of Christ wrapped that same half-cloak, saying, “Martin, a mere catechumen, covered me with his garment.” Martin left the army, was baptized and went on to form one of the earliest monastic communities in France.
There are times when it seems inevitable the sword must be taken up against a terrible foe, and yet there are times when Christ sets before us the frailty of our shared humanity and shows us another way. Most veterans I have ever known have wished not that we might glorify the wars in which they fought but rather that we might celebrate the peace we have known, and to work for that same peace so that we might never raise arms again. In St. Martin we meet a powerful example of just such a movement toward peace. St. Martin is the solider that stoops to help the man in need and in doing so not only demonstrates Christian compassion, but seeks eradicate one of the very causes of war, the poverty of the poor man.
At the root of most human conflict is the inhuman way we treat each other, and in particular, how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us. It is characteristic of the human condition to dehumanize the “other,” and thus we distance ourselves from all the we fear. It is the distance we place between ourselves and those who are different from us; it is the radicalization and fragmentation of peoples that comes through poverty, neglect, religious and ethnic hatred that leads us on the path of war. It is against these things that brave men reluctantly took up arms to fight. And it is against these things that Jesus stands when he sets before us the example to take the risk to reach out to those who are the most vulnerable amongst us in love and charity. By tearing his valuable cloak and handing it to the poor man, the one who was so different, the one who was so distanced from Martin in status and wealth, good St. Martin challenged the fear that drives wedges between us as peoples of this world.
The recent municipal elections here in the GTA and the mid-term elections south of the border were deeply disturbing because they were animated with so much anger. There is healthy anger, and there is righteous indignation. Any good therapist will tell you that it is good to name your anger and get it out. But if our anger is what drives us we shall never be partners in the building up of God’s kingdom. “What has happened to hope,” people are asking. Has it been replaced by anger? Anger, and its close cousin, Blaming, well always be close at hand. Indeed, out of her deep sadness and anger, Martha of Bethany blamed Jesus for her brother’s death, simply because Jesus had not come when he was called. Consider the irrationality of the anger that drives the blaming, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s your fault Jesus; death is your fault. Has hope been replaced by anger?
And yet we know the rest of the story, that even in the midst of the anger of Martha of Bethany, in even as she accuses Jesus, resurrection is proclaimed, and Jesus calls out “Lazarus, come forth!” and hope is restored. God repaid anger and blaming not with the sword but with new life.
God looked upon the brokenness of this world and chose not to send a flaming sword to destroy it, but rather to clothe himself in humility, in human flesh, as Jesus of Nazareth, and offer himself in vulnerability to this broken world. To those of us languishing on the side of the road, in the poverty of our humanity, suffering the nakedness of our anger, hate and prejudice, he stretched out his hands in suffering and wrapped us in the torn cloak of his divinity, that we might know his perfect peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.
We live in an imperfect world. It is a world in which people die. It is a world in which people take up arms, out of malice to harm and out of valour to protect. This is the reality in which we live, but there is another reality which is breaking through, and that is the reality the reality of the sacred cloak in which we are wrapped that reminds us that this imperfect world is passing away and we are being enfolded in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as those who have gone before us, whom we remember today, have already tasted.
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves