top of page

Remembrance Sunday 2023

00:00 / 01:04

12 Nov 2023

Isaiah 2:4, Revelation 21:1-4, Mark 13:7-13

He shall judge between the nations,   and shall decide disputes for many peoples;and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,   and their spears into pruning hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation,   neither shall they learn war anymore.Isaiah 2:4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1-4

And when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Mark 13:7-13

War and Peace in this Age

Our readings today tell us that war is an inevitability in this age. Christ says, “When you hear of wars”, not, “If you hear of wars”. War is a permanent feature of human civilisation. Men may have dreamt of an end to all wars and a perpetual and lasting peace upon the earth but the reality has always fallen far short. In fact, as our scientific and technological abilities develop, we put them to use not to bring about greater peace and harmony among the nations but to develop ever-more terrifying and destructive weapons that can kill more widely, more quickly, more efficiently and more horrifically. This reality was brought home to me in watching the recent Christopher Nolan film, ‘Oppenheimer’: the brightest minds in the western world, all the economic and military resources of the American Empire, the political will of the nation, all of these things were brought together in a great and concerted effort with one objective: the invention of the nuclear bomb. A weapon that would be unleashed upon the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of them civilians, in a hellish flame of apocalyptic fire. The quotation now most famously associated with Oppenheimer from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. These are the gifts that God gives to us, and this is the use we put them to.

Our readings tell us that true and lasting peace can only be an eschatological reality brought about by God himself. God is the only one who can judge between the nations. He is ultimately the only one to whom kings and rulers are accountable. They will stand before him and he will reward each once for what he has done, whether good or evil. He will bring peace. But it will be a lasting peace that is ushered in in a new age beyond this one.

Why is war a permanent feature of human reality in this age? There is a simple answer and the answer is sin. All war is caused by human sin. Think of the common causes of war: The lust for power and glory - sin. The hatred of other races and adherents of other religions - sin. The desire to steal land and pillage the inhabitants - sin. War is not caused by abstract structures that exist out there. It is caused by the sin that dwells within the human heart. It begins not on the geo-political landscape but in the decisions that we all make to prefer what it evil to what is good, to choose the way of the self in the place of the way of God. Christ tells us that murder begins in the human heart when we make the decision to hate our brother (Matthew 5:21-22). The same is true of war. It is a decision of the heart, of the human soul.

I was struck recently by a tweet from the famous Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, expressing his dismay at the recent events in the Middle East:

I dreamt of nuclear war again this morningFor the first time in thirty years

I could see mushroom clouds on the horizonand missiles launching in pointless retaliation

And thoughtWe could have hadEverythingInstead of this

Indeed, we could have done. But we have chosen not to. And we are all implicated in this decision because we are all guilty of sin before God and one another. And so we are brought back powerfully to one of the great central claims of the Christian faith: All is not as it should. We are not as we should be.

The horror of war brings home to us the reality that human beings are not fundamentally good and spoiled by society but that human beings are deeply flawed and prone to acts of great wickedness. It is therefore humans that wreck societies and not the other way around. At the beginning of a new millennium, we reflect upon a century of wars that outstrips in horror and destruction anything that has gone before, and we reflect upon ongoing conflict and inhumanity in Eastern Europe and in the Holy Land. We are not even told by our mainstream media about wars elsewhere in the world: ethnic conflict in Myanmar and Thailand, drug war in Mexico and Columbia, civil wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Indeed, much of the continent of Africa is currently experiencing the effects of either civil war or terrorist insurgency. And this is not even to name all of the major conflicts. As we think about this, we cannot pretend that war is a thing of the past or that we are on the brink of solving our problems for ourselves once and for all. We cannot solve our problems by ourselves. We can only look to God to change our hearts.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Christ called the peacemakers blessed (Matthew 5:9). And yet how are we to be peacemakers in this age?

Firstly, to quote the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, “Instead of hating people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war”. War emanates from the human soul. War is ultimately a reflection of our disordered passions, hatreds and lusts. How can we contribute to peace on earth? We can hate the sin that exists within ourselves and look to God to forgive us and to change us, so that we will contribute as little as we can to the destruction and chaos that surrounds us.

Secondly, we can make peace with our fellow man through repentance and forgiveness. The war in the Holy Land is simply one example of peoples who have built up grievances against one another over a long period of time. The web of sin, violence, hatred and recrimination is so thickly woven that it cannot possibly be untangled now. To love one’s enemies, to forgive those who have hurt you, to pray for those who despitefully use you: this is how we turn our swords into plowshares in this present age. And this is only way that peace can be made. It may sound idealistic to say this but it is the reality.

Embodying such a reconciled humanity is part of the calling of the church in this age. The church is imperfect, flawed, marred by human sin. And yet, the church is called to embody something of that coming reality the God will dispute between nations, when God will wipe away tear from our eyes. We embody this reality through living out the truth of the Gospel: God has shown his love for us in giving Christ to die for our sin. We are now to receive this gift with grateful hearts through repentance and faith. And with this new life that we are given, we are to offer the same grace to those who have wronged us, with whom we may have been at enmity for many generations. This is the reality of which the Apostle Paul spoke when he wrote to the church at Ephesus: Jew and Gentile had been divided through racial and religious animosity since time immemorial and, yet, writing to this Gentile church, the Apostle Paul was so bold as to say, ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility’ (Ephesians 2:13-14). The church is the beginning a new humanity, a humanity no longer at war with but a humanity transformed by the power of the Gospel.


Finally, none of this is to disparage the actions of all of those who have fought in wars and continue to do so today. The Christian tradition has always held open the possibility of just wars - wars that are fought because there simply is no better option, wars that are fought to protect and liberate and so are prosecuted in a spirit of love, wars that are fought ultimately in the pursuit of peace and justice. These is truth, in my view, in the words of the Roman writer Vegetius, “If you want peace, prepare for war”.

We must also remember the virtuous, loving, sacrificial and brave actions of those individuals who gave their lives or their health not just for their country’s cause but to protect their brothers in arms.

We give thanks today for them and for those who have kept our nation free from foreign tyranny. We give thanks for those who have fought and died to protect others from the machinations of the wicked and the powerful. We give thanks for every act of Christian charity and virtue, for every life given in the pursuit of the good.

And we pray for a better world, a more peaceful and just world, a world that can only be brought about in part now by repentance, forgiveness and faith, and which will come in its fullness when the true judge takes his seat.

For, to give a slightly fuller context to our reading from Isaiah today,

It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the Lord

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be lifted up above the hills;

and all the nations shall flow to it,

and many peoples shall come, and say:


“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.


He shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore.


O house of Jacob,

come, let us walk

in the light of the LORD.


Isaiah 2:2-5


bottom of page