Jesus said, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day”. In today’s context of collective reconciliation with those wronged by the colonial past of our country, we strive to achieve a renewed understanding of our history. At times, this leads us to become hyper-critical of the decisions of those who held power in the past -- for all the right reasons, mostly. However, paradoxically, in our attempt to atone for all the lives lost to systemic evil in doing so, we sometimes risk discounting the very value of individual life and personal sacrifice that we aim to uphold. In connection with the Remembrance Day, this stance often results in insisting that the terrible wars of the last century were fought in vain. For example, at the large school where I worked last year, on this day, we heard a history teacher’s address outlining in detail the futile nature of some of the large battles that lead to the loss of lives on an unfathomable scale. Absolutely, this is true, and tragically so. However, I believe that our today’s recognition of the appalling manipulation of military leadership, which held no regard for individual lives, should in no way rob those men of their self-sacrificial beliefs held personally; in fact, the two should be contrasted. More broadly, over the course of our own lives, we have all, at times, acted honorably and self-sacrificially, and at other times, conformed to systemic injustice and selfish motivation. Yet, the passages we read today assure us that nothing good in our lives, and in those of our loved ones, will ever be lost. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God” -- even if “in the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster”. They are at peace; in eternity, no torment will ever touch us, in contrast to what we experience here on earth.
On Remembrance Day, and in church this morning, we will hear the traditional trumpet sounds, without which the observance will not be complete: the somber tones of the Last Post, followed by the silence, and contrasted with the bright sound of Reveille (pronounced ruh-vay, deriving its meaning from the Old French “wake again”, and attributed to Joseph Hayden in composition). Ordinarily, and in fact, since Roman times, the last post and reveille were simply the sounds of horns that announced to the troops the end of the day, and the beginning of the new one. However, over time, these pieces started to be played in this sequence at military funerals and Remembrance Day observances, and took on a new, powerful meaning in reference to the ultimate awakening -- the awakening of the dead from the temporary slumber induced by death, which has no true power over their souls, held in the hand of God. As Jesus said about the young girl he brought back to life, “the child is not dead but asleep”, commanding her in Arameic, “Talitha, koum”, meaning, “Little girl, arise”.
The Greek word for resurrection is similar: anastasis, that is, "standing up again". In the OT, both Elijah and Elisha performed such miracles, foreshadowing Jesus who, in the Gospels, is said to bring people back to life three times. If you recall, Jesus resuscitates this young girl in her home, a widow’s son out in the graveyard, and Lazarus – already in his grave. Makes sense, since in the Gospel of John, Jesus states 7 claims beginning with “I am the…”, and all his “signs” are meant to support this claim. For example, “the bread of life” - by the feeding of the multitudes; arguably, “the vine” - by the turning of water into wine; “the light of the world” by the healing of the blind; and so forth, including “the resurrection and the life” - by resurrecting these three people. The effect was temporary, of course, since they would eventually die like everyone else, including Jesus -- fully man, even as he was one with the Great I AM. So, according to the Church Fathers of the early schools of Christian thought (e.g., St Augustine of Hippo), the places where Jesus encounters these people, in fact, represent the three degrees of spiritual death. The 12-year-old girl was the youngest, and he finds her at home: luckily, many of the evil impulses we conceive stay only in our hearts. The widow’s son was already in the graveyard by the time Jesus gets to him: so, occasionally, our selfish motives are acted upon. And Lazarus, he finds in the tomb, just as many of our unworthy habits become, unfortunately, so well-established that they entomb us and we no longer even notice them.
For now, in this world, death reigns, physically and spiritually. Millions of innocents are slain in crimes and conflicts, as people suffer and die for all kinds of reasons and for none at all. When we read about Jesus’ resurrections and promises, and of the souls that are in the hand of God in perpetual peace, we think, first, about the dear ones we’ve lost and hope to meet again, and second, about our own mortality. All of us grieve, just as Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave, each time we are confronted with the presence of the great Foe in our world. Yet, in “Flanders Fields”, the dead soldiers implore us to take up our quarrel with this Foe, and I don’t think that John McCrae was thinking here of the human enemy only. On both sides, men fought and died for their own ideals, just as they were manipulated and also corrupted to the degree that they perpetrated unfathomable things to fellow human beings (whom they stopped regarding as such). So, the foe is not a person - it is the evil greater than found in any one of us. But, as I said, the sound of the reveille reminds us of the ultimate victory of good over evil and life over death, by the grace and power of God.
And, the reveille actually points us to more than one kind of awakening. The ultimate one to the eternal life to come, yes; but also our own awakening while still on earth, each to our own duty. So, in the poem, there’s also the lark, bravely singing in the sky, which reminds me of the Holy Spirit; so small at times, in the face of all evil, her song scarcely heard amid the battle sounds below. But, she leads us to self-sacrifice and spiritual freedom. With her help and by God’s grace, in the words from our first reading, ”those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones”. Thanks be to God.