by Michael Ellard
Today we come together in remembrance of those who have died in two world wars, those who have died since, and those who die today through current conflict between nations. For some this time will still be personal, it will be hard, hurting, and lonely. Yet for others it will be place only seen through images, stories told or handed down through family generations, or seen through the media, and although devoid of personal contact, it will be equally disturbing.
As we remember the sacrifice made by so many, we do not come to glorify war but to recognise its cost, the human life lost and the suffering caused to all involved and affected by the actions taken. Today in our remembrance we also come together to re-commit ourselves before God to be those peacemakers
and peacekeepers that Jesus asks all his disciples to become through the ways we live our lives together. We come to express our common humanity shared in the light of Christ by pausing to recognise the value of every life, past and present.
It is at times such as these that our faith grinds against the reality of an often hard, unforgiving, and uncomprehending world. As we reflect on the horrors endured by those we remember today, we may also find ourselves challenged in our understanding of human nature, and why change and forgiveness can appear to be a slow process between individuals or within nations, as we see others continuing along paths of destruction today.
That need for change within people is not a new concept though, for the prophets of the Old Testament were constantly urging those around them to change their ways and follow the words of God handed down to Moses. Amos picks up this point in his narrative today which is part of his ‘Call to Repentance’, explaining how God will judge His people if they continue in their present ways.
Effecting change of attitudes or values amongst people has always been an ‘uphill’ task, as we have seen in more recent times, whether it be associated with climate change or the dangers of larger social gatherings spreading the current virus. In Matthew’s Gospel, we see the consequences this causes if we ignore the values of preparation and change, in the parable of the ten virgins.
Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem for the last time, and those people have been waiting a long time for their ‘King’ to arrive and save them from the Roman occupation they have endured for many years. They long for liberation and a return to the ‘old’ ways of life together, something perhaps we also feel at this current time. Their natural instinct is for confrontation, but what they see occurring leaves many to question who Jesus really is, with some turning against him, demanding his crucifixion.
For people, communities and nations to function coherently we need to have a framework of rules. God handed down his commandments to Moses for the people of Israel, who in turn were to teach these to others, and Jesus too picks up that framework of how we can live peacefully, understanding each other’s needs, through his teaching of the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel. But rules alone, by their very nature, are ‘hard edged’, they are prescriptive, often tying people and communities in regulations that lack that understanding and compassion.
Jesus tries to teach this to his disciples and those around him throughout his journeys as he confronts the elders of the synagogues on numerous occasions. God showed his compassion to the people of the Old Testament many times, despite going their own way numerous times. Jesus teaches us all that compassion towards one another, leads to a love of each other which shows a strength in forgiveness, not a weakness, and heals those mistakes made during present or past occasions that can lead to the confrontations we often see.
In those final days in Jerusalem though, Jesus also shows us that there is a point were God’s message will not be adopted by some people, no matter how often the message is repeated, and his framework for living together with love, forgiveness and peace will not occur. On such occasions a door closes between the ways of God and the ways of this world, as the five virgins who had not prepared for their task found, leaving them outside the wedding feast after the others had entered, and Jesus was prepared to lay down his life as that door closed.
When we are faced with that choice though, as Paul explains to his followers in Thessalonica in our second reading today, God does not leave us in all we face or the resultant consequences of the actions taken. To defend God’s ways of living together in peace, with love and forgiveness towards each other in this world may have cost the lives of many throughout the generations, but through Christ’s own resurrection, our belief is we will all be united in the presence of God through the assurance of life beyond our present world we know today.