Rev. Dr. John Allsop, St. James United Church
Last Sunday, Nov. 11, people across Canada gathered at cenotaphs and in religious services to remember. People gathered to remember the cost of war. They gathered to honour all who have sacrificed and suffered in war. And they gathered to pledge themselves to the cause of peace.
There are some among us who have had firsthand experience of war and are familiar with its devastation but there are many more that haven’t. How important it is then, that one day a year we allow the ‘collective memory’ of our nation to speak about the human and material cost of war.
Some compared super storm Sandy’s devastation along the U.S. Eastern seaboard to a ’war zone’. Imagine a whole country impacted like that. Modern day Syria is presently paying that price because of civil war. Remembering the material cost of war isn’t simply a good thing to do, it’s essential to making every possible effort to avoid war.
But war isn’t simply about soldiers and armaments, buildings and bombs. It’s about the sacrifice of friends and neighbours, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and parents and grandparents. War is about the suffering of real people with real families and real friends. Today there are many in Canada’s military that bear the scars of war – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. There are families that have lost loved ones. Giving honour to others who have sacrificed on our behalf not only helps to ease sorrow by participating in it; it also ennobles the human spirit. Remembering those who have suffered in war reminds us of our mutual interdependence and makes us aware of how personal relationships bind us all together.
It was twentieth century philosopher and essayist George Santayana who observed that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We remember war in order to strengthen our resolve to make peace and keep peace. In remembering war, we recommit ourselves to the pursuit of peace.
But real peace has a cost – a personal cost. Jesus taught that peace is not merely the absence of war; it is the pursuit of genuine relationship in the midst of conflict, cruelty and injustice. It involves a respect for difference and the practice of forgiveness. Jesus spoke of a better world, a world ruled not by hate but love; not by self-interest but selflessness; not by greed but generosity; not by intimidation but by serving others – even our enemies. Genuine peace will come only as the human heart is transformed. This transformation is not cheap; it has a cost. It involves the outpouring of God’s sacrificial love and the submission of the human spirit to that love.
Having remembered war and its cost last Sunday have we really recommitted ourselves to peace? And more pointedly, have our acts of remembrance created in us a willingness to be ruled by the One who alone can transform the human heart?