Ninety-nine years ago today there was an event that signaled the end of something horrible and unthinkable, and the beginning of a new hope for worldwide peace. At 11:11 AM on November 11, 1918, a state of truce began to exist between Germany and the Allied nations, France, England, Australia, Canada and other commonwealth nations. It marked essentially the end of World War I, the war to end all wars, a war that killed 150,000 and traumatized a large part of the European continent. The day was marked as Armistice Day, after the process that occurred that morning of that day in 1918.
Today, Armistice Day is still celebrated in the United Kingdom and her commonwealth. It is a day of solemn remembrance not only of those brave young people who served in the military and fought so bravely yet who were killed in the conflict. Eventually it became a traditional day to remember not only the dead but also those who fought and also those injured in service to their country. At 11:11 a.m. on Armistice Day, a traditional wreath of red poppies is laid at the base of the Cenotaph, a memorial to the war dead, by the Queen, herself a veteran, or her representative All across the country, at the sound of a bell, everything and everyone stops for two minutes of silence in tribute to all veterans. There is also a Remembrance Sunday on the second Sunday of November which is a day of quiet celebration, church services and other commemorations. In France, Remembrance Day is solemn, with church services and many businesses closing to honor the fallen. In Belgium, visitors come to see thousands upon thousands of crosses and other symbols which marked the graves of the fallen. Close by, blood red poppies bloom as if a reminder of the blood that was shed to make freedom for those at home.
In the United States we celebrate Veterans Day, honoring all who have served, the living and the dead alike. There are frequently parades, and businesses offer free things from food to haircuts to discounts on some items. It’s also a time for big Veterans Day sales which feature big-ticket items like cars and appliances go on sale along with clothes, electronics, and almost everything. It is kind of a run-up to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes it makes one wonder what the relationship is between a refrigerator and a veteran painfully walking on crutches, or wheelchair-bound, or walking with a service dog — or lying in a coffin. It’s almost incomprehensible.
Stories have always glorified warriors, especially those of one’s own nationality or culture or religion, who came back to honor and glory from their admirers. These became stories that would encourage others to be heroic themselves. Stories like Joshua, who led the troops and also the priests who marched around the city of Jericho with shofars blaring so that the walls, as the song says, “… Came tumbling down.” Whether it actually happened that way or not, who knows, but it is a story we remember, and we can all use it to motivate ourselves to do a little marching and a little tooting. Yet not often are those immortalized were among the dead left behind or buried hastily in the place where they fell.
Jesus never actually came out and endorsed warriors, although David was certainly a warrior as well as a king. Instead Jesus talked about peace, bringing the world to the peace that originally existed when God finished the creation. Jesus talked a lot about that kingdom, and also cast it in, what was to him, modern visions of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of peace, wisdom, good feeling, and mutual caring that were all parts of Eden, parts that were shattered by a serpent’s words and a couple’s willingness to disobey. There’s always been an image of re-foraging and recasting weapons like swords and shields into instruments of peace like plowshares and reaping scythes. It’s still a dream, but it seems farther away now than ever before.
Now we not only think about those who sacrificed themselves so that others might be free, but we also think about victims of domestic violence and terrorism, terrorism from home-grown people as well as foreigners. We think of all the recent incidents of violence against crowds of innocent people just because someone wanted to make a point. How many hundreds died this year at the hands of others who, with some sort of skewed ideology or even theology, walk into churches, perch on top of buildings, break glass windows in hotel towers, and simply walk the streets with guns blazing and automobiles racing through crowds. It is becoming all too familiar, and the more familiar it gets, the less impact it has because we get so used to it.
Jesus would not like that, not at all. I pray that Jesus will keep reminding us that in order to bring peace we need to reestablish an environment where peace can flourish, peace as a place where people respect other people including the aliens and their land, as was the custom in Israel among the Israelites and the Hebrews. We must cultivate a sense of caring for those who fight their own battles against disease, criminal acts too easily done, hunger, homelessness, in prison but who are innocent (and even the ones who are guilty). It needs to be a world where we comfort the dying, not to ship them off to some clinic or hospital and let them die alone and possibly uncared for. There’s a whole lot that can be done, and as surely as we can wear red poppies on our shirts for Veterans Day to mark the bloodshed for us and in our name, above it there should be a visible or even invisible cross to remind us to that Jesus was a victim of violence himself and who died as a result of the ideology and theology of others.
Let’s let Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day be a day for all of us to think seriously about what freedom means and what the kingdom of God is really about.
To veterans, alive and those on the other side of the veil, thank you for your service and bless you for your sacrifices.
For the rest of us, let us never ever forget what others have done for us and in our name. Then let us go out and tend to them in the name of Jesus.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. — John McCrae (1872-1918) (Poem in public domain)
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, a wannabe writer, and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is owned by three cats. She is a member of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, North Scottsdale, AZ.
Image: from the National Archives