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Job

The Rev. Dr. Irina Dubinski

We haven’t learned anything from history, have we? This sentiment is expressed quite often these days whenever the conversation turns towards the subject of the war in Ukraine, where death has touched not only its own soldiers and civilians, but also tens of thousands of young Russians sent there often against their convictions. Here, on the other side of the world, many of those who used to hold the military in respect, as an honorable institution meant to protect the freedom and well-being of its people, are becoming disillusioned. It’s certainly disturbing to see the leaders treat individual human lives as dispensable in pursuit of personal ambitions, and even more so when such situations unfold in front of our own eyes, rather than on the pages of history books. On either side of each conflict, people are forced to fight and die, as they are also being corrupted to the degree that they inflict unfathomable evil onto fellow human beings, whom they stop regarding as such. Yet, I still believe that the appalling oppression and manipulation of military leadership should in no way rob the men and women who have died, and now die daily, of their self-sacrificial beliefs held personally; in fact, the two should be contrasted. For don’t we also, albeit on a lesser scale, sometimes act honorably and self-sacrificially, and at other times, in conformity to systemic injustice and selfish motivations? Despite the latter, the biblical passages we read today assure us that nothing good in our lives, and in those of our loved ones, will ever be lost.

Let us keep this in mind as we anticipate Remembrance Day, while at the same time, we look back to All Souls Day that followed All Saints. We remember those in our own families whom we love and see no longer, and we find comfort that in eternity, they are at peace - just as Ps 116:7 speaks of the soul’s “return to rest.” And most importantly, let us be assured that everything that was good in their lives, that which came from love and desire to bring glory to God, will never be lost. This is in contrast to all the suffering they endured as part of living in this world, where death reigns, physically and spiritually. Indeed, millions of innocents are slain in crimes and conflicts, and people hurt and die for no reason at all, as well as for many reasons, except for one – which is as God’s punishment. So let me read this powerful verse to you, one of the most comforting in all our scriptures: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.. [though] in the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster” (Wis of Sol 3.1–9). They are at peace; no further torment will ever touch them.

Today, the traditional trumpet sounds, without which the Nov 11th observance is never complete, will serve as a tangible reminder that death is but a temporary slumber which has no power over any soul, as they are all held in the hand of God. For originally, and going as far back as Roman times, the somber tones of the Last Post and the contrasting bright sound of Reveille were simply the sounds of horns that announced to the troops the beginning of each night’s rest, and woke them up again in the morning. Over time, at military funerals and Remembrance Day observances, such pieces, including most notably the Reveille attributed to Joseph Haydn, began to be played in conjunction with each other, separated by the minute of silence. In this way, they took on a new, powerful meaning in reference to the ultimate awakening. Afterall, the “ruh-vay” derives its meaning from the Old French “to wake again”, just as “anastasis”, the Greek word for resurrection, literally means "standing up again". This reminds me of the time 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 Bible describes three times that Jesus brought people back from the dead, in addition to Elijah and Elisha’s miracles that are said to have foreshadowed these, and of course, his own resurrection. Jesus’ miracles – really “resuscitations,” as these people did all die eventually – appear in different gospels with various purposes. For example, in John, Jesus makes 7 claims about himself beginning with “I am the…” and performs what are called the “signs” to support these claims (e.g., say “I am the resurrection and the life” and raise Lazarus). As a way to unify these miracles across the gospels, early Christians teachers proposed that the places where Jesus encountered these people were significant: recall that he found the 12-year-old at home, the widow’s son – further in the graveyard, and Lazarus - already immured in the tomb. This was understood, figuratively, to point to the three degrees of human wrongdoing and corresponding renewal. As such, God rescues us from the selfish motives that “stay home” in our hearts and do not get expressed, as he does from those impulses that are acted upon occasionally, and even from those that entomb and fully control us. Thanks be to God that no matter how entrenched we may be in sin and sorrow, nobody escapes his healing power! As Jesus said, “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”

So let the sound of the Reveille we will hear shortly do more than acknowledge the sacrifice of those who died in wars. As poignant as this symbolism is alone, let it also remind us of the ultimate victory of the good over evil – life over death! – which by the grace and power of God takes place in every human life. As that wake up call which was originally heard by the soldiers, let it awaken us today to our own duty. The duty to love God and each other, moment by moment; on earth as we will in heaven, where we will hear the trumpet sound one last time. In embracing this hope, may our souls become peaceful and still. For, in the words of the old German hymn, “the hour is hastening on when we shall be forever with the Lord, when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.” Thanks be to God.