At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the guns fell silent, signalling the end of what has become known as “The Great War” or “The War to end all wars”. I have been privileged to have known and served with a number of people in a variety of uniforms over the years. People like my maternal grandfather who fought in World War II with Canada’s Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and with Lord Hugh Connaught’s Battalion. As I understand it, he was with the Canadians in Scilly and Italy as well as in England where he taught others to drive various machines. My grandfather told me that his main duties were to go and get vehicles of different kinds off the battlefields and bring them in so that the machines could be repaired and used again. I remember vividly our last Remembrance Day together in 1987; just a short time before he died.
He told me that as bad as the sights were, what was worse for him was the smells of things that would invoke memories. Crossing battlefields and doing your job to keep people moving, to keep winning battles no matter what, there are things: sights, sounds, smells that always stay with you. He served in the Canadian Forces from 1940-45. And though he never said it, life when he came home was forever changed and forever different because of what he went through and what he remembered of those years.
In ministry, I have also had to bury members of the Canadian Forces and help to bury members of the RCMP. Boys (and yes, I mean boys) like Private Steven Maynard and Private Justin Jones. Steven died in a car accident on a Manitoba highway, trying to keep a friend from running into a problem. Justin died with two other members of his unit on a road way in Afghanistan when their armoured vehicle set off an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). And there is Corporal Jason Derry of the RCMP who died suddenly at the Detachment in the community where we lived. He was a neighbour and used to delight our younger son with a flash of the lights and a blip of the siren when he would pass the house in his work vehicle.
It was hard at first, to understand what all this has to do with this week’s Gospel (John 6.35-40) and to connect it with Remembrance Day and the memories that such a day invokes. If there are somethings that these and others have taught me, here is some what I have learned from what they taught me:
· One cannot fully and truly live, until one learns to go and in the going, unselfishly give.
· In order for one to know peace, one first needs to receive the grace that only God Almighty can give; without it there can never be peace.
· Until we are peace filled people, this will not be a peaceful world.
· That God is not an unknown factor in the equation of life but rather a well loved Father.
· That hope comes from knowing Jesus and experiencing his resurrection – the mistakes we make don’t have to be fatal and the deaths that we die do not have to be final.
· That the hope and therefore the life that Christ offers cannot be changed, muted, faded or worn away. Faith needs to be tested (heated) to prove itself and so that it can be found to be genuine.
· Courage is not the lack or absence of fear, but rather the ability to act in the face of it.
· Jesus brings divine purpose to our common life and service.
· Whether we come home to the arms of those who love us or fall into the hands of the One who created us, we are safe and secure.
It is Jesus who gives us bread to eat and life to live, not just for the here and now, but for eternity. Jesus changed the standard and made himself our source for life. Hope for the Christian person therefore comes from being in the presence of and fed by the hand of Christ himself. Christ offers each and all of us hope and life that is spiritual, untainted by fear and mistrust, and that cannot fade away (1st Peter 1.3-9). It is kept for us by the power of God because we trust and believe in him.
Maybe that is why there are no atheists in foxholes or on turbulent airplanes. Like those who have lived and died in battle, each and all of us understand that the only place to find true peace and rest is to know Christ. It is his grace that leads us to mercy and then into peace. Once at peace, then there can be real growth.
Rest eternal grant unto these O Lord and let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.