This last week has been quite memorable. On Remembrance Day on Wednesday, the 11th of the 11th, a powerful Service was held in Westminster Abbey, which as it was televised, some of you may have watched. This last year has seen the death of the three remaining men in the UK, who served in the First World War, the War to send all Wars. Those of you who watched the Service or saw the highlights in the evening will have seen how the television coverage was interspersed with footage showing the mud, the terrible conditions and the soldiers being caught on the barbed wire and being mowed down like grass. The Dean picked up on some of it as he started the Service by the grave of the “unknown warrior”.
Around the Benefice, the Country, the Commonwealth, from cities to small villages there are war memorials that pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the Service of freedom from oppression. From history and from the war poems of that period, those who went off to fight went full of high hopes and a nationalistic spirit. They were to be disillusioned as what they encountered was hell on earth.
In this last week we have had the bodies repatriated of six of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Five killed by an Afghan police man, who had obviously infiltrated the police force for the purpose. The sense of betrayal of being shot by someone who you thought was on your side, must also have been felt in the United States were soldiers were killed and injured by one of their own, at Fort Hood. That feeling of fear and suspicion, when you need to rely completely on those serving with you must be devastating and undermining and for those who went through it a different experience of a living hell.
On a happier note we had the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which was one of the major ingredients in the fall of the Communist block in Europe and beyond. Events which some of us thought we would not live to see. The Churches in East Germany played a significant role in this. The Churches were the only places where people were able to gather without a special permit and they were a major player in fostering the ground swell which brought about the peaceful revolution. Those who had been killed in the years before had helped in the most costly way to pave the way for the bloodless revolution.
You might well be thinking where is she going with this. It stems from my reflections on the readings today and on what has been happening in our world and my own experiences in this last week. We are approaching Advent and all the readings are about the end times, the second coming, and the final judgement. The Book of Daniel is the only apocalyptic book in the Hebrew Scriptures. The apocalyptic literature comes from times of national or community tribulation. Our reading from Hebrew’s, has this wonderful verse 24. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” It begs the question as to how we might encourage one another to do more in living out our Christian life. As verse 25 says; “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but to encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In the Gospel we have Jesus and the disciples coming to Jerusalem and the Temple and looking around. The Temple, at this point was the one begun by Herod the Great and it was not yet finished. The stones were big, 37.5 feet long, 18 feet wide and 12 feet thick, no wonder the disciples were impressed and here is Jesus saying that it will all be destroyed. Jesus goes on to warn the disciples about people leading them astray. Jesus’ message of God’s love is about liberation. That message which we in our generation are called to implement can be costly as it was for those who went before us. Jesus calls us to bring in the Kingdom of God’s peace with justice, God’s kingdom of valuing every human being.
It is a challenge for us to remember that this is what following Jesus, in the way he taught and showed us is all about. Yes what we do or don’t do in Church will matter to us. There will be things we like and those we don’t like. What happens in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion matters, but all of that pales into insignificance when we are faced with some of the life and death issues, the justice issues that are going on in our world right now.
Last Sunday evening I went with some of our Sisters to a Church in London to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak. It was as you would imagine packed. He spoke powerfully of how God, our God does not intervene directly in the unjust situations in our world. God chose to make himself vulnerable in his coming to birth, his life and death. God chose and called people like Moses, and a young girl by the name of Mary to be his partners to work with him and his grace to bring in the kingdom. God calls each one of us to work with him to bring in his kingdom of love, peace and justice, not to leave it to someone else.
At that same Service, Sue was sitting next to a young Palestinian woman, who belongs to the Free Gaza movement. She came to speak to us the next day in our Chapter meeting. We are all aware that the situation in the Holy Land is very fraught and difficult, but partly because of that there is a huge human tragedy, going on under all our noses. It has all the elements of apartheid, a divided Germany and oppressed Eastern Block countries John Ging, director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said, “This is not a natural disaster. It is a man- made disaster created by policies that are not humane.”
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. A 25-mile-long narrow coastal plain wedged between Israel and Egypt, Gaza is home to 1.5 million Palestinians, over half of them children. Most of its population are refugees or their descendants, driven out of Israel during its founding in 1948. Surrounded by 40-foot high walls of iron and steel, Gaza has only 3 points of entry or exit: the Erez border crossing with Israel, the Rafah crossing with Egypt, and the sea.
The only real way of getting in and out for the Palestinians is the Rafah crossing into Egypt and the account we heard of what happens there to the sick, the disabled as well as the healthy was one of abuse, violence and denial of basic human rights.
Because of this the main way in and out of Gaza is through the tunnels. They are used to get people in and out and to bring in the basic necessities. The Israelis bomb the tunnels and the Egyptians are known to put “mustard gas” down them. An echo from the first World War. The Free Gaza movement wants to get the blockade lifted and to bring about one State where all the citizens Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace.
The situation is complex. People there and in other places continue to experience a living hell. How is God calling us to respond, to be his hands, his feet, his eyes, ears and heart in his world now? While not denying the need for action, one of the things we can all do in this and every Eucharist is to bring all the suffering and all those in need into God’s loving embrace, asking him to give us the grace to be his people and to reach out and serve him in all the situations of our life. We pray that God will enable us to do this.