'There are many who are dead and buried. Some of them will wake up and live forever
[…] the wise people will shine as bright as the sky.’ Daniel 12:2-3
Brothers and sisters, how can we be safe? Soldiers, sailors, and airmen spend their lives trying to make us safer. They train and they plan, and they fight so that those within their nation—so you and me—might be safe. Many have given their lives, so that might be safe. However, as we remember those brave men and women, we must also acknowledge that humanity keeps finding new reasons to go to war. Mankind keeps asking the soldiers, sailors, and airmen, to go out into harms way, perhaps, never to return. Here is the human tragedy which our service men and women are caught up in: fighting to make us safe in a world which will not stop fighting. The very people whom our veterans gave their lives for, soon enough, end up in harms way all over again. Pause with me for a moment and think of your favourite film, and perhaps today it may be a war film. In the films we usually acknowledge the dark moments—death, injury, and loss—but the dark moments are put in context, for after them always comes the moments of light. Those who are unsafe, usually return safely. And those who do not return, have died for a good cause. This is not only how we like our films but also how we tell our other stories; how we remember—on this day of all days—the wars and battles which have gone before. Dunkirk was followed by D-Day, and the Somme by German surrender. Our story-telling goes from a safe and peaceful situation, through a time of un-safety, but always, always, out the other side. This is how we package our stories…but let’s be honest life just isn’t like that all the time.
Imagine for a moment a wounded soldier lying in a field in France in World War I who is coming to the end of his life. If we could be there, we would be quick to tell him of the final victory which was coming! However, imagine we went further. Imagine we took him past the 11th November 1918, and onwards into the 1930s. Imagine we showed him the beginning of World War II, and then the Cold War, and then Iraq, and then 911, and then Afghanistan. WWI was meant to be the ‘war to end all wars’, and so as we showed that wounded serviceman the horrors of the next 100 years, he would be forgiven for asking, ‘Was it all worth it?’ Was his death, and the death of his friends and comrades worth it if it only secured safety for a relatively brief time before humanity found yet more reasons to kill and to maim. Victory in war is in fact not the end of the story. Humanity keeps making the same mistakes, and the amazing thing is, that every time it makes such a mistake there are brave men and women, who put on a uniform, guard a post and man a wall, and say ‘for your tomorrow, I will give my today’. And for such bravery it would be remiss of us, if we did not stop and consider what they did: how they died, how they served, and then say a heartfelt ‘thank you’. Of course, for each of those brave service men, for each of those names on the cenotaph wall, it may have seemed to them, that death was the end of the story. And if death is the end of the story, then even as we stand and remember we would have to admit that their deaths were tragic. If this life is all there is, then their deaths are tragic. For, if this life is all there is, then we must hold on to it with both hands, and not let it be taken from us in some vain searching after safety. How can we be safe? The answer would have to be, stay at home, and go nowhere near war and conflict. If death is the end of the story, then we must keep our life going at all costs.
Let me take you back now, to that wounded soldier lying in a French field in WWI, to whom we were tempted to tell the history of the last 100 years. This man—this boy really—who is but 17, is lying in pain and knowing he is going to die, he has taken a small book out of his breast pocket, and he is reading some words to himself. He is reading from the Book of Daniel, a reading from the Old Testament, which gives us some detail of what that ending is going to be like:
‘There are many who are dead and buried. Some of them will wake up and live forever, but others will wake up to shame and disgrace forever. The wise people will shine as bright as the sky. Those who teach others to live right will shine like stars forever and ever.’
For those who have faith in Jesus, for those who have given themselves into His hands, death is not the end of the story. No, the end of the story is found through death and out the other side. Death could not hold Christ on that first Easter morning, and for those who are His, death will not be able to hold them either. Resurrection is ours, as surely as it was His. War remains tragic. Violence and conflict something to be avoided. Bereavement something rightly to be wept at, but mortality has lost its hold, and each Christian serviceman or woman—indeed each person who has died in Christ—will be able to echo the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? […] thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Here is the final, and most conclusive answer to our question: How can we be safe? For nowhere else will we be as safe as when we are with Christ. How can we be safe? Whether we wear a uniform or not, our ultimate safety is found in the hands of Christ, where death is not the end of the story but merely its beginning. Amen. (from Fr Mike).