As I get ready for the service this coming Sunday, I should note that we are going to have a bunch of Sea Cadets in the congregation. They are coming to help the congregation commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic. It is important for us for a couple of reasons. One is that we need to give thanks for those who worked and fought to bring freedom and life to those who were dying and under the boot of tyranny. The other is to reconnect with that part of the Christian faith which compels us to go and lay down our lives in service to God and for those we call friends and neighbours. Self sacrifice is a trait we often lack in our modern society. That is why it is important to remember: so that when the needs be, we are prepared to emulate it.
That brings me to a piece of history that happen during the Battle of the Atlantic. It is called the Battle of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Supplies for the war effort during the Second World War were being shipped from Canada and the United States to the United Kingdom. To prevent the UK from remaining strong and able to resist, Germany sent out submarine patrols called “wolf packs”. During the first couple of years, the wolf packs sank a lot of boats and cargo meant for the English and for the invasion of mainland Europe. U boat 69 had made an attack on a ship near Quebec City in the Fall of 1942 and that had many people in Canada enraged.
What steeled the opinion and strength of the country was what happened next – the sinking of the S.S. Caribou. The Caribou was a passenger ferry that ran back and forth from North Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, NL. The Caribou left Nova Scotia about 930pm on the night of October 13th 1942, belching out lots of thick black smoke as the HMCS Grandmere – a Canadian Naval Minesweeper sent for protection - trailed in her wake. At 340 am the next morning, U-69’s Captain, Ulrich Graf, having mistaken the pair ships he had been trailing for a trio of grain ships he was ordered to sink, put a single torpedo through Caribou’s starboard side, sending her to the bottom. There were only 60 kilometres from Port aux Basques at the time of the sinking. Of the 202 people aboard the Caribou that night 136 souls perished, including Captain Benjamin Tavenor and his two sons. Survivors were rescued by the Grandmere and brought to Port aux Basques. It was said in the days after the sinking that entire families were wiped out. Most of the dead were from the Port aux Basques area.
It should also be noted here that by the end of World War two, over 80% of the wolf packs had been sunk by the Allies as they transported supplies, troops, planes and other things needed for the invasion of German occupied Europe. Without the bravery and sacrifice of so many more Newfoundlanders and Canadians, the efforts of D-Day in Normandy and the end of the War would not have been possible.
The families of those died aboard the Caribou that night, as so many of us do when we face and deal with loss would have asked the same questions, wondered the same things and tried to examine it all to a satisfactory end, only to say, “We had hoped...” It is not unlike the two travelers we encounter in the Gospel Lesson this week (Luke 24.13-35). They had hoped. They had hoped that Jesus was the one to deliver them from the oppression of the Roman government. They had hoped he would become king and would make Israel a strong nation again. They had hoped that things would have been different; that they would have been different. They had hoped. Then those hopes died with Jesus on the cross and those hopes were buried with him in the tomb. They had hopes and then those hopes were gone.
Into this situation, came a stranger who asked a simple question, “What things? What are you talking about?” The travelers stopped their trudging and looked amazed at the stranger and said Jesus of Nazareth of course!” Jesus goes on to teach them that what they heard that morning was the truth and that the things they are describing had to happen because it was God’s doing.
As the travelers approached home the invited the stranger into eat and stay with them over night, so that the conversation of the road could continue. It was at the table, at the breaking of the bread that brought to light that the companion who now breaks the bread is Jesus and then Jesus goes out from them. They knew that they knew he was there and was alive and they could not and did not wait to share this with the apostles because they immediately got up and returned the seven miles to Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus in those moments had to discover for themselves that there was still hope and because there was still hope, there was still life.
Faith hope and life all start with where people are and where they are at, not where they are intended or where we demand that they ought to be. We must walk with them and teach them. We must be reenchanted by the Word, live it and proclaim it. We need to show the world that the things which had grown old have been made new. We need to show the world that the things which had previously fallen down are being raised up. And most of all we need to show everyone that all things are being brought under the rule of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. We still have hope and his name is Jesus.