1 Peter 1:3-9: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
A lot of things fall into a short period of time in early November. We mark All Saints on November 1st and All Souls on November 2nd. Also in the mix is a Remembrance Sunday, which is usually the Sunday before Remembrance Day. Tradition is that All Saints is moved to the Sunday after November 1st and usually then ends up being marked on the same day as Remembrance Sunday.
This year however, because Remembrance Day is on the Sunday, we used the readings for All Saints last week, as we lit candles in memory of those gone before and brought a new member in Christ’s Church through baptism.
So that leaves a bit of a conundrum as to which readings to use for Remembrance Sunday. The readings assigned for November 11th, are not connected to a remembrance theme, but the readings for All Souls Day, certainly are. Thus, my choice for this morning.
The Epistle Reading – 1 Peter 1:3-9 is one of my most cherished passages of Scripture. At so many junctures in my life, I have found myself sitting with Peter’s words about what it means to live faith in a life full of difficulties. When all around us seems unsettled, unpredictable and in fact uncontrollable, these words, to me, are reassuring and point me in faith, to the One that I trust beyond all others.
Over the years that I have been in ministry, I have journeyed with many veterans, oft as they approached the end of their lives, with the memories of war disturbing the peace they long to find. I have suggested this reading to veterans and they have told me that it has been helpful.
Today, I hope we can use this short portion of a letter that Peter wrote to encourage Christians in a wide geographical area some 30 years after Jesus death, to gain some insight into the horrors faced by many thousands during the two world wars.
Imagine you are a young man, suddenly in a country distant from home, everything is new, the people around you come from various parts of the world, you have been issued uniforms and a gun, you have taken some training and now, you are told you are to go into battle. What runs through your mind? And what do you make of these words of Peter, nearly 2000 years old, to a completely different civilization. As you face, in a very real way, your own personal mortality, are these words enough to bring trust, belief and faith into your heart and mind. As you close your eyes for a sleepless night before you are called to risk everything, including your very life, can you find peace in the knowledge that God has your mortal soul and your eternal soul in hand?
None of us can answer that question because we have not been in that position. But framing that question, I believe, can give us some insight into the dichotomy of terror and peace that must have coursed through the minds of those who literally, felt they had the future of the world on their shoulders.
The veterans I have been privileged to journey with had an unbreakable core faith; of belief that they did what they had to do. But they also had such immense sadness and pain for the loss of those around them, for the ripping away of their own innocence, and for the burden they would carry until this life came to an end. Put in these terms the words penned in the well-known poem In Flanders Fields by John McRea echo so much more boldly. “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep.”
We are called to live in the midst of a plethora of emotions today. Sadness at the loss of so many innocent men, women and children; anger that we continue to repeat the hatred that brings us to countenance war; pride in our forebears who gave everything that we might be free; fear that that freedom might be waning and trust; trust that Peter’s message is true; that all those who paid the ultimate price received God’s ultimate grace – the salvation of their souls; trust that we today can hold onto that same faith stemming from taking the same words into our hearts and spirits; and trust that in the future we might still walk with a belief that God is with us, that Jesus’ mission and ministry among us has shown us how to rise out of hatred, anger, struggle and the desire for power and control, to find freedom and peace.
As Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope. . .” That is the torch that needs to be ours to receive and hold high. A flame that illuminates our knowledge that love can conquer all, if we will just listen to the One who gave it to us. Amen.
Rev. Keith Nethery