I had the privilege of speaking at a local Remembrance Day service this year. It was a privilege but also a challenge. As a Christian pastor, having the opportunity to speak to such a large audience is also an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. No doubt there were many present who were not believers. I felt called to draw attention to Christ and his sacrifice, because it might be someone’s only opportunity to hear about it. Doing this while also honouring those who served and sacrificed on our behalf requires a delicate balance. I’m not saying I managed such a balance, but I did try. I should also note, I was asked to speak for only 10 minutes.
The only relative of mine I personally know that served was my grandfather, who served in WW1. I don’t know a great deal about his service, but I know many of you have family in generations past who served our nation. And in gathering this morning to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country, the word that comes to my mind is sacrifice. What is a sacrifice? One definition is this: to sacrifice is to surrender something for the sake of someone or something else.
In his book Band of Brothers Stephen Ambrose tells the story of a young World War II soldier named David Webster who wrote these words to his mother: “Stop worrying about me. I joined the parachutists to fight. I intend to fight. If necessary, I shall die fighting, but don’t worry about this because no war can be won without young men dying. Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.”
No Greater Love
Not all sacrifices, of course, are equal. We all sacrifice, often in different ways. Those we honour today willingly gave their lives. This is why we repeat the words, “Lest we forget.” So that we don’t forget their sacrifice. So we don’t take for granted the freedoms we enjoy each and every day.
Those we honour today also bring to mind the words of Jesus: No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. Of course, when Jesus spoke these words, he said them to his closest friends, his disciples, on the night before he went to the cross and gave his life for the sins of the world. He was telling them about what he was going to do–and the kind of love they ought to have for one another.
Those we honour today were willing to sacrifice themselves for friends, family, for neighbours, for their communities and their country, for people they knew, people they didn’t know, and people they loved. Many died, perhaps not always even knowing the full worth of their sacrifice. And even the many who returned home often faced the physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of combat and of war. Their sacrifice was also great.
And we are grateful for them, we remember them, and we honour them by having this service today. And truthfully, we must remember and honour them. If we value the lives we have, we will also pass on the history of their sacrifice to upcoming generations.
“While we were enemies”
As great as their sacrifice was, and it was truly great, we also must remember another sacrifice: that is, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Of course, the sacrifice of our veterans indeed mirrored his. They put their lives on the line. They offered themselves on our behalf.
That’s why when we think of them we think of Jesus’ words: No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. To this day, our lives benefit immensely because of what they were willing to do.
But I would say this: Jesus’ sacrifice went beyond all other sacrifices. He laid down his life willingly and went to the cross not only to transform our lives in the here and now, which Christ most certainly seeks to do, but to provide eternal life. He died on earth that we may live forever in heaven. Which is profoundly important, because our lives in this world are not always certain–and they are never forever. Looking back at times of war and honouring our veterans reminds us of this.
It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where nations can be enemies. So those we honour today, we honour because they faced enemies on our behalf. However, that there are those whom we can call enemies is a sad fact of human history. Yet though we may sometimes count other people as our enemies, there is something all of us have in common. Because it’s also a sad fact of human history.
Let me read from a book of the Bible called Romans, a letter written in the first century by the apostle Paul to Christians in the city of Rome. I’ll just read one verse, Romans 5:10: Even when we were God’s enemies, he made peace with us, because his Son died for us.
This is what makes the sacrifice of Christ the ultimate sacrifice. Christ sacrificed himself not for those who already knew him or loved him, but for those who rejected him, who misunderstood him, who stood against him, who hated him, and even those who crucified him.
It is indeed a beautiful, incredible, honourable thing to sacrifice oneself for those who love us, and who are on our side, and who share our beliefs and values. Again, this is why we observe Remembrance Day.
But Christ’s sacrifice was about turning enemies into friends. Because apart from Christ, we cannot have peace with God and the gift of eternal life. That’s true for every one of us. This is what we all have in common. And yet having peace with God–being counted as God’s friends rather than his enemies–gives us the courage to face life, even when we know that this world of conflict will never be perfectly at peace this side of eternity.
So let us acknowledge our desire for peace by honouring those who on our behalf fought for peace through their sacrifice. And let us not forget. Let us not fail to pass on our history to those who come after us. And let us not take the blessings we have because of them for granted. May we always be grateful because of what they did then to preserve the freedom we enjoy now.
And, of course, we are also invited to honour Christ’s sacrifice. We do so by trusting in Christ, by trusting that by his sacrifice we can have peace with God, a peace that we can only taste in this life but can fully enjoy in the next.
And so now may God in his grace grant us the humility to honour those whose sacrifice we remember today. And may he grant us the faith to trust Christ’s sacrifice for the peace we can enjoy with him now and forever. Amen.