A few months ago, a neighbour of one of our Churches arrived a short while before the Sunday Service and showed me small tan attache case. When we opened the case, it revealed a ‘Field Communion Set’ of the type issued to the Padres of our armed forces and those of many of our allies.This gentleman’s Father, who’d been a Minister in the Church in Canada, had enlisted as a Padre in the Canadian Army during the Second World War.
Amazingly the contents of this case was last used at Juno Beach, during the D-Day Landings of 6 June 1944. He’d been clearing out as he and his wife are planning to move into a smaller house and he felt that thecase and its contents would be more use in the Church than stuck at the back of his wardrobe.
This set me wondering about that day 75 years ago and it’s impact on us now. 21,000 troops landed on Juno Beach on D-Day, approximately 14,000 of them were Canadians from the Third Canadian Infantry Division and the Second Canadian Armoured Brigade, the remainder were British. Of the Canadians who landed: 340 were killed, 574 were wounded, and 47 were captured. Now D-Day is generally considered to be one of the allied ‘successes’ of WWII, but notwithstanding that, the allied casualties on D-Day are estimated at 10,000, including 4414 deaths with the remainder wounded or missing; a salutary reminder that wars bring much destruction, suffering and grief, whoever is considered to be the ‘winner’.
On or around 11th November each year, at War Memorials up and down the land, we remember those who’ve gone before us and what they’ve contributed to the way that we live our lives today. The previous Monday, we celebrated All Souls, remembering those that we’ve known, who’ve meant so much to us who have now died, and I always find that an extremely moving service.
It’s very difficult to judge at the time, what impact people or events today will have in the future. Will particular figures go down in history as visionary and inspiration leaders, who whilst not fully appreciated in their time have left a lasting and positive legacy, or as people whose ideology and poor judgement made them instigators of hard times? It’s much easier to judge in retrospect those who’ve been major influences on our lives, those who’ve made us the people that we are today.
During Holy Week we’re confronted with death more than during any other season of the liturgical year. We’re called to mediate not just on death in general or on our own death in particular, but on the death of Jesus Christ who is God and Man. We’re challenged to look at Him dying on a cross and to find there the meaning of our own life and death. What strikes me most in all that’s read and said during these days is that Jesus of Nazareth did not die for himself, but for us, and that in following Him we too are called to make our death a death for others.
What makes you and me Christians isn’t only our belief that He who was without sin died for our sake on the cross and thus opened for us the way to His heavenly Father, but also that through His death our death is transformed from a totally absurd end of all that gives life its meaning into an event that liberates us and those whom we love.
It’s because of the liberating death of Christ that I dare say to you that mother’s death isn’t simply an absurd end to a beautiful, altruistic life. Rather, her death is an event that allows her altruism to yield a rich harvest. Jesus died so that we might live, and everyone who dies in union with Him participates in the life-giving power of His death. I think that we need to start seeing the profound meaning of this dying for each other in and through the death of Christ in order to catch a glimpse of what eternal life might mean. Eternity is born in time, and every time someone dies whom we have loved dearly, eternity can break into our mortal existence a little bit more.”
At the time it must have seemed to many that Jesus Christ’s mission as Messiah was a total failure. He died mocked and ridiculed by Crucifixion, one or the cruelest execution methods ever devised, judged to be a dangerous revolutionary who broke all the rules, mixed with all sorts of undesirable people and had to be done away with. His ministry lasted only three short years, and when he died his disciples went back to whatever they were doing before he came along. You wouldn’t expect such a person to leave a lasting legacy. But he did. The movement that followed in the wake of his Resurrection is still very much alive and we are its heirs.
Over the two millennia since that Resurrection, the Christian Faith has motivated and inspired many people, and helped them through difficult times. The armed forces still value their Padres as an important part of providing support and maintaining morale amongst their personnel. These men and women, whilst remaining unarmed, go to war with the rest of the soldiers, sailors and aircrew and are there for them when they need someone to talk to.
On Remembrance Sunday, we used that Canadian Field Communion Set in our celebration of the Eucharist, a visible and very tangible connection to those who fought on the beaches of Normandy and in other places and in other wars. This wonderful gift has the effect of bringing some of those who we remember on Remembrance Sunday very close indeed. “Do this in Remembrance of Me” we say at the Eucharist and this year we “Did this in Remembrance of Them”.