14 November, 2015

Homily for Remembrance Sunday - Not just for the British

There are very few dreaded occasions in a priest’s calendar when he or she is called to preach about complex or problematic subjects. For example, few may find it difficult to address their congregation well on important days such as Trinity Sunday or even Christmas, but I think it is even more complicated to address people effectively on Remembrance Sunday. In their sermons, priests may end up glorifying war by mistake; or they may forget to ask their congregations to commend once again the fallen to mercy of God. Perhaps, priests may even appear too self-conscious about saying something wrong that could unsettle the local community and the ongoing grieving process of a nation. However, in my case there is an added difficulty in knowing what to say when preaching on Remembrance Sunday. As many of you know or as you may have guessed by my accent I am not British. I am Italian. Yet, today it is my duty and honour to hold before God the fallen children of this nation and the grief of those who still mourn their loss.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
I still remember my first November in Britain, a fair few years back now. I purchased a poppy at Sloane Square tube station in London on my way to work. The Poppy Appeal fundraiser was a Chelsea pensioner smiling brightly in his scarlet uniform. It seemed natural to me to partake in the Remembrance celebrations in this small way. It seemed natural to express thankfulness for those countless soldiers who died liberating my homeland from the horrors of fascism and discriminatory laws. However, as I worked through my shift that day a couple of colleagues – also foreigners from other countries – made few remarks about the poppy pinned to my uniform. “It is not for us”, they said “only for the British”. This remarks made me think; and it still makes me think today.

To say “It’s only for the British” is a damaging, dangerous statement; a statement that belittles the sacrifice of millions of British soldiers who fought bravely along men from other countries. For instance, those who died in the Battle of the Somme – 99 years ago – fought and fell alongside French soldiers for a common cause. Or again, It ridicules the sacrifice of those who have fallen in Afghanistan alongside soldier from all around the world – alongside those who once we considered enemies.
To say “It’s only for the British” means mocking the efforts of those who have given their whole, not just to protect one nation, but to conquer a better tomorrow for all. The brave men from Britain, America and all over the Commonwealth who landed on the shores Normandy and Southern Italy fought beside paramilitary forces with the single aim of ridding the world – not just one nation – from bloodthirsty tyranny.
To say “It’s only for the British” may mean wrapping ourselves tightly in national grief and pride, but it would not mean making just remembrance of the fallen, of their efforts for a better world. To these few who fought as one, one true act of remembrance is due throughout the world.

To make a true act of remembrance means looking at the world today with its deep yearnings for peace and with its constant efforts to build friendship among nations; it means taking it all in, and, closing our eyes for a couple minutes, saying a simple but heartfelt “thank you” to those how have given their lives so that our entire world may enjoy greater freedom, more stability, and a better hope for tomorrow. Incidentally, this also means making remembrance in the Christian sense. Fixing our mind’s eye on the freedom that we have received, and in thanksgiving, acknowledging the selfless sacrifice of those who – as Jesus tells us – have laid down their lives for their friends (cf. John 15:13).
When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
Let us pray,
O God,
by whose mercy the faithful departed find rest,
look kindly on our fallen serviceman and women
who gave their lives on the line of duty.
Grant that through the passion, death, 
and resurrection of your Son,
the one saviour who died for us all,
they may share in the joy of your heavenly kingdom
and rejoice forever in the vision of your glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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