Transcribed from the audio.
This Sunday I come to this beautiful cathedral church, as I suspect many of you do, with a very heavy heart. It’s been a violent week: Beirut, Baghdad, and, of course, most recently, in Paris. It raises questions for us that have no easy or satisfactory answers. Why? What’s next? What’s our appropriate response? I love Pope Francis. Pope Francis said he doesn’t understand. But this he knows: that there is no human or religious justification for what has happened. It is horrific.
So we gather this morning, I suspect all of us, looking for a word of hope. A way forward. What are we as faithful Christians called to do? How are we to make sense of what seems seemingly so senseless? I think one response to that is in our collect for today: that Holy Scripture was written for our learning; that we are to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God. And more specifically, as followers of Christ, to learn from what Jesus taught and modeled with his own life.
Two short weeks ago from that pulpit our new Presiding Bishop spoke about a Jesus movement and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. He talked about how Jesus came and turned the world upside down or as he put it, right side up: a different way of being, a different way of understanding—the radical notion that love can transform and touch and conquer all things. And that light came into the midst of darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
Martin Luther King, Jr, said that those who live by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth are destined for a blind and toothless generation. Philosopher Hannah Arendt makes the point that Jesus ushered in for us and the affairs of humanity the notion of forgiveness; and it was and is radical. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to forgive seventy times seven. In the midst of where we find ourselves it seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? When we see such horrific scenes across the globe, how can we do those things? They seem beyond our human reach and capacity.
So, I just want to articulate what I suspect is on all of our hearts and in our minds and in our prayers this morning. And in the context of that, this Sunday that we have set aside for the observance of Veterans Day. For me, it is totally appropriate. This cathedral has long had a close ministry with veterans and those who serve to protect us at home and abroad. Almost 100 years ago, soldiers as they were preparing for deployment in World War I, gathered to pray in Bethlehem Chapel, in 1917. Praying to their God, our God, and the son of God, Jesus the Christ, the Prince of Peace. And it was after World War II that it seemed totally appropriate and necessary to add a chapel in this cathedral: War Memorial Chapel. It was not in the original plans, but as we as a nation and the world came together to fight evil, to seek peace, to seek goodness, that was memorialized and lives on in this chapel.
In the decades that have followed, War Memorial Chapel has become a sacred space, not just for the men and women of our country who bravely seek to serve us at home and abroad, but for each one of us to gather, to pray, to remember, and to draw upon the lessons of Jesus the Christ. The themes in that chapel are about freedom and sacrifice. In the centerpiece, in the windows, and above the altar in that chapel is Jesus depicted giving the ultimate sacrifice out of love—a sign that love could and would and can conquer all things. This was brought home for me as we think about our military and the nature of transformation and forgiveness and healing a short two weeks ago.
I was in London at a sister cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral. You may know that there is an American Memorial Chapel in that great cathedral, right behind the high altar, in honor and thanksgiving for the sacrifice of 28,000 Americans who served in the UK during World War II. A place to come together and remember so we would never forget and where we would continue to join together to yearn for a different time, a different way of being. The Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral addressed this international group of Anglicans and he told a personal story. His name is Mark Oakley. He is a good friend of mine. He is a good friend of this cathedral.
He told the story that he had recently, as part of his sabbatical, gone to Dresden. He had always wanted to go to Dresden. He knew it was a beautiful city, but he had a different need to make that pilgrimage. He shared with the group that his grandfather had served in the Royal Air Force. His grandfather never spoke much about the war. But Mark had learned something about his grandfather recently and he shared that with the taxi driver, an older German man, who at the end of the visit was taking him back to make his way home to London. The taxi driver, just trying to make conversation, asked Mark, “How did you like Dresden?” Mark paused. He explained that it was a beautiful city, but he’d come there for a different purpose: that he had learned from the flight books of his grandfather, who served in the Royal Air Force, that he had been a part of the Lancaster Bombers that had devastated that city in February, 1945.
The taxi driver pulled the car over, stopped, looked over the seatback, looked at Mark, and said, “My mother died that night.” He extended his arm and he said, “And now we shake hands.” No further words were said. No further words needed to be said. In one generation seemingly the impossible had happened: healing, restoration, forgiveness. In one generation something that had seemed impossible had come together. The power of the love and embodiment of Jesus Christ.
It is in these times that we are reminded of the One we seek to follow, that in our own way we’re called to bring healing and wholeness and light and life and love to this broken and hurting world. We hold fast to the words of St. Paul who said that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor the present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor power or anything can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That is our hope. That is our call. That is our purpose. This day and in the days to come. Let it be so. Amen.