Meditation on Remembrance Day
Posted November 13, 2016on:
rsSeveral folks have asked me to share my meditation from today’s service, which featured a performance of John Rutter’s Requiem in honor of Remembrance Day. So, here you go.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
The Requiem invites us into the depths—to enter the depths of our soul and cry out to God in music and prayer. We echo the Psalmist: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.”
Some of us show up to worship today feeling like we’ve been sent into the depths.
Others may feel like the week has finally lifted us out of the depths.
And I don’t just mean the U.S. election which has dominated so much news and many of our thoughts this week.
The tragic train crash in Croydon that took seven lives. The anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Paris. A bomb blast in Pakistan that killed dozens. The difficult peace accord between Colombia and FARC. Rising unrest in the Philippines. The ongoing battles and civilian casualties in Mosul and Aleppo.
And there were millions of personal depths as well—a bad diagnosis, a job loss, a family fallout, the death of a loved one, and so much more.
Living and loving in this world means coming to know the depths from time to time.
That’s why this Psalm is one of the most familiar and often-read, because it speaks to that human experience of the depths.
So what does it say?
First, the Psalmist points us to hope in God.
Like the Requiem, the Psalm tells the gospel story of darkness turning to light.
We are invited to wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning—through the night, trusting that the sun will rise again.
Second, the Psalmist confronts us with the truth—that sometimes our grief is caused by our own actions, our own sins. “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” Many of the depths we find ourselves in have human causes, and require human repentance to find solution and resolution.
Third, the Psalmist speaks of redemption—which is the place where God’s hope and our sinfulness intersect. Yes, human wrongdoing has caused and causes much suffering—but that does not stop God’s work of hope. “In you there is forgiveness,” the Psalmist sings, “so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” Our hope is not in our ability to get it right, but in God’s ability to forgive us and use us even when we get it wrong.
That’s why this Psalm about the depths speaks to the depths—because it offers no shallow, unrepentant comfort—but truth about the depth of our sin AND the truth about the depth of God’s forgiveness. Therein we find hope.
Remembrance Day is the embodiment of this Psalm and its meaning.
The great casualties and costs of war remind us of the damage we humans can do to one another, to life. They confront us with the catastrophic cost of human sin in suffering.
Yet, at the very same time, we remember the courage and sacrifice of those who served with bravery and honor, those who gave up their very lives for others—the work of hope and love.
Both of my grandfathers were veterans of the Second World War, and both went on to long careers in the military, one in the army and the other in the navy. When I grew old enough to become curious, I went to them to ask about their experiences in the war. They both refused to offer up the stories I sought. Instead, they gave a short, abrupt answer that was basically the same, delivered with an unwavering stare into my eyes. “War is terrible. I served because I hope and pray that you—and all my children and grandchildren—never have to.”
My friends, that is the message of the Psalm, the message of the Requiem, the message of Remembrance Day. From the depths, we know how quickly and easily we humans can slip into cruelty and callousness toward one another, which, before we know it, becomes violence and war. Yet we also know that God’s redemption is ever working hope in our midst.
To honor those who have sacrificed their lives in service is to work for a world in which our children and grandchildren never have to know the horrors of war. That begins here and now, as we commit ourselves to overcoming our prejudices, working toward justice, listening with compassion to those who disagree with us, standing against all who would foster hatred or violence, and intentionally seeking God’s grace and forgiveness for ourselves and for one another, knowing that we are likely to fail again and again. The depths will find us again, but so will hope and redemption.
In Remembrance, may we go out from this place with reverence, to serve God.
In Remembrance, may we honor the dead by working toward peace and justice for the living.
In Remembrance, may we put our hope in the Lord, for with God is unfailing love. Amen.