Sunday Message, Remembrance Sunday: Dying to Live: No Greater Love
The opposite of remember is probably dis-member. When we remember whether those killed in the two war worlds and the many subsequent and no less traumatic conflicts we are recalling them to mind, refreshing their image in our memory, and above all recalling their sacrifice for our freedom. Re-member means to put back together our thoughts so that they have an impact today. In the Communion service we renew our focus on Jesus (do this to re-member me), seeing Him afresh on the Cross dying so we might live. As followers of the Crucified Christ we live with the truth of Jesus’ words: I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24). Dis-membering sounds and is painful: it means pulling apart that which is together. We revise history at our peril, we down play the horror of war at our peril, and we revel in peace rallies and wear peace poppies and ignore evil at our peril.
The cross was no picnic in the park: it was and is one of the cruellest ways of execution known to man. And whilst man has dreamt up since even crueller ways (in the Burmese jungle, the Holocaust and the slaughter houses of modern regimes) we sanitise the cross at our peril. The Cross remains at the heart and centre of our Faith in Jesus and the moment downplay it or make it more acceptable is the moment that we have pulled apart that which remains together for all eternity. For me Remembrance Sunday, Help for Heroes, Poppies and silent remembering only makes sense in the light of the cross and our proper and life transforming remembering of Jesus.
Our URC Synod have just launched a Mission Strategy called Dying to Live: it was opposed at synod by one who felt it was all too negative. But the single seed of the life of Jesus had to die in order that the glorious procession of unnumbered saints called the Body of Christ could fill Planet Earth and continue His ministry. In many respects the life of a Pastor is no different: should he stay for ever then single seeds would never become many seeds. As Followers of Jesus we are not just called to sow but of ourselves to become the seed that dies and produces many seeds: Dying to Live describes the process of transformation which takes place as the Gospel of Grace takes root in the life of an individual, and the measure to which they truly embrace that process will be the measure to which they produce a lasting harvest.
Jonathan, Catherine, & Megan coming forward with the poppy wreath and for the words of remembrance, was symbolic of how perhaps more that ever before we are aware of how someone’s service in the armed forces affects not only them but their whole family. We have heard, over the years of the Afghan conflict, many heart wrenching stories of bereavement and pain. Why would you give your life in such a public way to a war thousands of miles from our doorsteps? The answer for most seems to be that they want to serve their country and protect directly or indirectly their family and their children’s future.
Which is why when I relooked at the words Jesus spoke from the cross, recorded by John in his gospel, I found them so poignant and so real. From the beginning of his gospel John has portrayed Jesus as many things but especially as the Family Maker: “He gave them the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”. So when faced with the reality of his death Jesus like many dying soldiers firstly thought of his mum: Dear woman, Here is your son & to John he says: Here is your mother. Right at the heart of the cross is relationship restored: instead of creation dismembered, it’s creation re-membered (put back together), as the Father out of His great love desires it to be. Through Jesus all humanity is brought back into the possibility of perfect relationship with Father God once again: No greater love than this that one Man (who was also God) lay His Life down for us all. And it results in renewed relationship with one another too. Can I suggest to you that Jesus’ direction to Mary, his mum, and to John was not just a unique one off but also a sample of the new community who would follow Jesus and form what was subsequently described as the Body of Christ. Brothers and Sisters in Christ who belong to each other (Romans 12:5) and whose restored Family encompasses the globe. We would do well to place a similar emphasis on restoring relationships by His grace at work within us.
The next thing John records that Jesus said was: I am thirsty. This ties in with words of Jesus in John 7:37 where He says: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. For the first time in His life Jesus was spiritually thirsty because He was choosing to take upon himself the sin of the world and therefore the flow of Holy Spirit living water was no longer there for Him. Other gospels have him saying: My God My God why have you forsaken me? We cannot truly imagine the depths of separation Jesus went through for us, we can only wonder at the price He paid and death He died so we might have life. If Jesus needed the flow of Living Water in His Life to sustain His relationship with and absolute connection with His Father, how much more do we need the same? This Living Water, this Holy Spirit Grace, is the holy oil which leads to restored relationships and true shalom.
The final thing John records that Jesus said were the words: It is finished! The battle over sin had been fought and won on Calvary’s tree once and for all. Sin, Sickness and death had and have been conquered and swallowed up in victory. The cross is a finished or completed work and that means we can be confident in the gospel of grace and its eternal allure. Battles might still need to be fought but the victory is never in doubt – Grace, Forgiveness & Mercy all flow from the Cross.
How is this instructive for us today? The answer must be that we dis-member the cross when we cloud it in theology and doctrine but we remember Jesus well when we recapture His emphasis on transformative relationship with Him and one another, open ourselves to streams of Holy Spirit living water today, and take our stand 100% upon the completed work of the cross.
Sadly sometimes I feel I encounter Christians who choose to sanitize the Cross: as in wartime they are like conscientious objectors to the need for such pain and sacrifice believing that evil can be defeated without actively challenging it. They have made the Cross into a merely religious symbol divesting it of its power, pain and victory and leaving them with an ethic built on Love but never personified nor actively challenging evil. That seems to me as futile and pointless as those who advocate remaining silent in the face of such overwhelming need. Human Politicians can pick and choose their fights and sadly the economic agenda is usually the backdrop against which we fight rather than sheer injustice and human need. But Christians don’t enjoy that luxury: we are called not to remain silent in our cozy religious ghettos but to actively be salt and light in our day and generation. Only by doing so do we truly remember Christ and His Cross.
So let me return you to John 12:24: “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24)”. We kid ourselves if this verse gives us a warm religious feeling for it speaks not just of the cross, where the grain of God’s embodied love was abused, wrecked, tortured and killed, but it also speaks of my response, of putting to death every ounce of flesh I can, allowing Jesus to be preeminent in my life, and letting his passionate embrace animate my whole being. No easy road, yet no choice for those of us trying to follow Him.
I plead with you today to put back together in your hearts the sacrifice of successive generations in wars – honour them, and care well for those left behind, to be truly peacemakers.
I plead even more for you to truly follow our crucified Lord wherever as Prince of Peace He leads, and never to succumb to cheap grace.
A soldier who lost his life recently in Afghanistan wrote to his parents: Every day is a gift not a right. Will you make a difference because of Jesus today? I hope and pray so.
November 13th 2011.