Summary: A sermon written to be shared on November 9 2008, for mixed ages, in a Remembrance Sunday (Veteran’s Day) Service. While written for a UK audience it is easily adapted for use in any place wanting to offer thanks for those who lost their lives in conflic
Luke 19:36-44 ‘Three Processions to Remember’
The words we hear from Luke’s Gospel this morning describe the atmosphere of a great procession, people lining the way from the Mount of Olives all the way to Jerusalem. Perhaps we can imagine the scene as the people wave palm-branches and, if they don’t have palm branches, their very hands in the air, while the multitude of people joyfully praise God ‘with loud voice’ as they chant, “Blessed is the king, who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to highest heaven!”
Yet amid all the joy and celebration, Jesus seems to be feeling alone and vulnerable. As he rounds a bend in the road, and the full panorama of Jerusalem comes into view, Jesus weeps and says, “If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in from every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God.” (NRSV)
I wonder who actually heard those words of Jesus, spoken as they were in the commotion of singing, shouting and movement. I wonder who heard those words about missed opportunities for peace, and the destruction that would come about as a result? It seems that Jesus alone knows what will happen over the days that will follow and his words of caution, swallowed-up as they are in that atmosphere of carnival and celebration, take-on the weight and severity of an Old Testament prophet. Words of warning that the crowds seem blissfully unaware of.
I thought about the imagery surrounding Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem; I ‘soaked-up’ the atmosphere that prevailed that day, along with Jesus words. And it seemed to me that there were many similarities here to the processions we see, participate in and remember in our own living memories. On television we may have seen newsreel footage (from WW1 and WW2) of UK troops marching through towns and cities ready to embark by train, plane and ship to foreign fields of battle. In our minds-eye we can see the bands as they play rousing music, and the streets lined with crowds of people who cheer, wave banners and Union Flags, and whose hearts are so full of national pride as their men leave all that is secure and familiar: their loved-ones, to stem the dark tide that threatens all they hold dear.
I wonder whether those people – the marching forces and the people lining the streets – could possibly have anticipated fully what they would be faced with, over the months and years that would follow the declaration of war and the mobilisation of troops. I wonder whether it would have been thought possible that the UK would have to barricade itself against the opposing force to keep its coastline safe from invasion; that so many villages, towns and cities would face destruction; that no person would be unaffected by brokenness and terror, at home and abroad.
But I wonder too what Jesus’ words would have meant for those who might have thought of them, as man and machine were transported overseas and by air, at those processions through 1914 and 1939? Did Jesus weep once again at this sight as he said, “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another…”? If he had spoken these words, I expect they would have been drowned-out once again by the clamour, shouting and cheering of the crowds.
Only those who experienced them know the full horror of the two World Wars. The horrors of war that can only be guessed at by the likes of myself, through the stories of old soldiers, sailors and airmen – and those of the women and children and men who remained at home. The full horrors of war we can only glimpse at today through the eyes of war-artists and poets, and film-makers. And horrors were endures too, suffered by all that fought, by all nationalities. On the battlefields, on (and under) the oceans, in the air and at home, physical wounds and emotional trauma was suffered. No-one escaped the impact of war. And it must have seemed that, for so many, they had been ‘crushed to the ground, them and their children within them, not leaving within them one stone upon another.’ Yet amid the nightmare visions and experiences of war there also existed a remarkable spirit of resilience, community and camaraderie.