Remembrance Sunday 2019 – Ecclesiasticus 51, 1-12; 1 Cor 15, 50-end.
Sermon preached by the Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan. St. Paul’s Anglican church Athens.
Today’s New Testament reading is part of the correspondence to a city not too far from where we are right now. Corinth had a primitive Christian community, but it also had diaspora Jews. It was a very cosmopolitan trading port.
His letter to the Corinthians contains some of St. Paul’s insights and theology of the resurrection. The words we have heard this morning are part of his extended reflections on this deep mystery of the faith.
As Christians, of course, the resurrection of Christ is central – central to the mystery of the cross and the new life offered in the Risen Christ. However Paul’s message is more subtle than this plain reading. Part of Paul’s hermeneutical style is to interpret the new faith in the light of the background circumstances of his listeners. At this he is a master.
So it is when he preaches at the Areopagus, here in Athens, he refers to the old pantheistic religion of the Greeks, focusing his attention on the tomb to the ‘unknown God’. He then preaches Jesus.
In Corinth there are community members with a Hebrew speaking, Jewish background, just as Paul had been – he is in familiar territory with this group of people.
So it is that he makes an assumption that Christians believe in the resurrection because of the resurrection of Jesus. In engaging the Hebrew speakers he goes a step further. Resurrection is already part of Jewish belief. Only the Sadducee party rejected it. So Paul adds in an interesting phrase at the beginning of his presentation on resurrection. He says this, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.’ (1 Cor 15,13). Paul already believed in resurrection – Judaism already believed in resurrection. It is what we can call ‘a priori’ argument. ‘Taken as read’.
I would like to remain in this space together on this Remembrance Sunday. As we reflect, rightly and justly, on the devastating effects of wars in Europe and the Far East, still in the living memory of many, though a diminishing number, we should not accept that there is an ‘a priori’ assumption that wars will always happen. The ‘a priori’ assumption is that humanity is created to live in peace and harmony, reconciled to each other, reconciled to the Creation of which we are part, and reconciled to the Creator, in whose light and truth we have been created. The ‘a priori’ condition of humanity is the Garden of Eden, Paradise, or the Garden of Delight that is re-established between God and man in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the garden of the empty tomb we enter the space of a new life, a new creation. This must be our ‘a priori’ assumption.
Though we are duty bound to remember the Fallen, we are duty bound to the Fallen to do all in our power to work for peace and reconciliation. We are duty bound to the ‘a priori’ assumption that we are created to live together in love. So today we always have to reflect on what we have learnt, not about the past in history as archaeology, but to learn about ourselves now, and what our legacy will be.
I have been attending Greek classes recently at the Athens Centre. Our teacher Dora delivered the other week what she refers to as her favourite lesson. It is a lesson on the future tense of verbs. She delights in telling her students that to form the future of any present tense verb you must first go to the simple past form. If we are to work actively in our lives for the future we must know what lies behind our present.
Mankind’s destiny is not to be constantly at war – this is a distortion of how we are created; it is unnatural to the ‘a priori’ of the human condition. Our destiny is to be co-workers with God in the mystery of his Creation.
One day a young Dad had the task of keeping his daughter entertained on a non-school day. He was anxious about how he would achieve this, as his wife was infinitely better at child care. So he took a big wall map of the world and he cut it into tiny pieces to make a jig- saw; lots of green and just as much, if not more, blue. To his horror it took his daughter only ten minutes to complete. ‘How did you manage to achieve such a complicated task in such a short amount of time?’ ‘Well daddy’, said the little girl, ‘I realised that on the reverse of the map was a picture of a man. I just put the pieces of the man together and the whole world fitted into shape.’
This is our task, to regain our natural condition despite all the work of sin in destroying unity, distorting power; crazing the mind of humans.
We must strain every sinew – we must be intentional – to work towards human harmony. ‘Sometimes you just have to let them fight’ is not an acceptable foreign policy for Christians.
There are many beautiful Greek verbs but one that is appropriate for today is συγχορώ. It translates as to forgive or pardon, but its literal meaning means to ‘be together in one space’. That is what I call a verb appropriate for Remembrance Sunday.
Is not that what God has created for us – to be together in one space, not just visibly in his created world, but invisibly in the reality of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
This to me is the most powerful ‘a priori’ assumption as we stand together in the same space as those who have fallen in battles, and as we do all we can to stand together in the same space in the future we create together.
‘Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ (1 Cor 15, 58)