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12 November. Mark chapters 15-16
Today is Remembrance Sunday. Along with hundreds of people of all faiths and none from our local community, I attended the act of remembrance at our local war memorial in Bramley Park. We had readings from the book of Micah (common scripture to Jews and Christians) and prayers from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh faith leaders as well as some words from local councillors and representatives of the armed services.
The common theme of such acts of remembrance is praise for those who have died in the service of their country. If pressed, I am sure the families of those victims would admit that their son, brother or uncle was not a perfect person, for none of us is perfect. But this is not the time to point out faults. If someone has taken it upon himself (or increasingly, herself) to fight in defence of their people or for the sake of human rights, then it is commonly acknowledged that such sacrifice deserves more than mere respect. It is accepted that laying down one’s life for others is of such moral value that it wipes out any faults that the person might have had, and leaves them fit to receive the accolade of “hero” – maybe even a posthumous medal.
Jesus did not give up his life in military service. In fact, while accepting the necessity of armed forces (he told soldiers who wished to follow him, not to desert their posts but to do their job faithfully and impartially), he himself was a man of peace, critical of those among his disciples who wished to take up arms. Yet, we recognise that he did voluntarily lay down his life. He could have just been a provincial rabbi, but instead he followed the insistent calling of the Holy Spirit to a unique ministry that he knew from early on would lead to his being martyred.
In giving himself up in this way, the perfect man for the sake of the imperfect, Jesus won a title that is far greater than that of a war hero, or even an ordinary person killed for their outspoken words of truth such as Martin Luther King or Oscar Romero. Even the Roman centurion who was in charge of the execution called him “a son of God” (15:39). To the writers of the Gospels, including Mark (who may have been one of Jesus’ disciples), the resurrection and the place at the right hand of God (16:19) were the fitting reward for this sacrifice.
Once a year we remember the war dead of the world. But every week (or in some communities, every day) Christians gather to remember the death of Jesus as we share the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. As we approach the communion table, we proclaim: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!” That is true remembrance.