Remembrance Sunday 2019 ~ SMC
How do we show love to others? Through acts of kindness, through saying we love someone, through giving them flowers or chocolates or some extravagant gesture, through faithful perseverance, through physical expression. All these and many other ways are how we show we love and how we want to be shown we are loved.
God shows us in lots of different ways that He loves us, supreme above them all by sending His Son to die for us, as we remember whenever we gather at the altar and offer the Lord’s Body and Blood. Another way in which God shows His love for us is through the sacrament of marriage. Not everyone is called to get married, of course, but we the Sacrament’s gift is not just confined to those who minister this Sacrament: it is to be sign for everyone of the love Christ has for His Church, as St Paul taught the Ephesians (5:32). Marriage tells us about the love of God because the individuals enter into it freely, without compulsion and without the wool pulled over their eyes. It is a life-long and faithful union. Such too to a more perfect level is the love God has for us.
In our Gospel today, the sad turn of events is that the husband dies. According to Jewish Law at the time because he and his wife died childless, the wife who had become a widow was obliged to marry her late husband’s brother. (Depending on your relationship with your partner’s family you may or may not see that as a good thing!) The scenario put bu the Sadducees in today’s Gospel is meant to be an even harder problem for Jesus to solve because the not only does this poor woman’s first husband die, but the second dies, so does the third, so indeed do all seven. This custom of when a man dies, leaving a woman childless, his brother marrying her is termed Levirate Marriage, after the Hebrew word for brother-in-law. It is laid down to be down in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and comes from a society where to be a widow meant financial impoverishment and social isolation, especially if you didn’t have any children. This was therefore, like a lot of the Old Testament’s requirements on these matters, about ensuring inheritance issues did not become complicated and so it was much easier if it was all kept in the family, quite literally with the brothers marrying their deceased brother’s wife.
We might just stop to ask ourselves whether we are prepared for that day when we die. It can indeed be a morbid thing to consider but it can be a great kindness to others to have these things in hand ready for our own death. Do you have funeral plans sorted, especially if your next of kin doesn’t go to Church, the danger is that they don’t really understand what your priorities would be. Maybe even start paying for your funeral? They’re expensive. Have you told your loved ones that you want them to pray for your soul after you have died and be at All Souls’ Day Masses to do so? Do you have a will so all those matters around money etc are arranged? Do you regularly declutter your home and possessions, living lightly so your departed loved ones don’t have a whole load of rubbish to sort through. Burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy, along with feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and going to see the imprisoned). To arrange someone’s burial is therefore seen as a blessing for those who arrange the affairs of someone who has died. We can make it easier for that person by putting some of these things in place now.
Back to the conundrum set by the Sadducees in the Gospel: whose wife will she be at the Resurrection, given she’s had seven brothers? We have to remember in all this that the Sadducees were a minority within first century Judaism and did not actually believe in the Resurrection, so they’re also mocking those Jews who did believe in it. Jesus takes his usual form of attach in these matters and cuts through all the rubbish and says: “The children of this world take wives and husbands but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world … are the same as the angels.” What does Jesus mean by this? Well angels are supremely messengers of God. We’ll sing next Sunday at our Confirmation Mass that wonderful hymn, Blessed Assurance, where the angels are lauded as bringing “echoes of mercy, whispers of love.” Hence angels are depicted as having wings because they must fly from God’s throne to earth His footstool and deliver to us such tidings. The most important, of course, was the message tarried by the Archangel Gabriel who told us of the birth of a Saviour.
Angels see God face-to-face and so they don’t need sacramental reminders of God’s love: they don’t need marriage and this is the point Jesus makes in the answer to the Sadducees. And what is the vision they see, according to the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse or the Revelation to St John? They see the Lamb that was slain and so the angels cry out “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Apocalypse 5:12).
Today is Remembrance Sunday when we pray for all those who died during conflict, offering their lives that others might know peace and freedom. As we read out the list of names later on we might do well to remember that each of those individuals were sacrificing a future and were leaving behind loved ones when they went off to fight, some voluntarily, others conscripted to go against the nation’s enemies. The reason we celebrate Remembrance Sunday is because this sacrifice teaches us something about what Jesus does for us. In particular it puts in concrete the words of the Lord: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
We see this same willingness to die for something greater in the first reading. It’s set during the battle and conflict that occurred as the Seleucid leader, Antiochus IV, sought to destroy the Jewish faith in part through forcing the Jews to do things that were contrary to their religion, including eating pork. A mother has to see a different set of seven brothers die because they refuse to let the practices of their faith be watered down because they are precious and are to be handed down from one generation to the next. They were willing to sacrifice their lives that God might be glorified.
We proclaim the Lord’s Death whenever we gather for Mass. We might have before us on this Remembrance Sunday the image of those soldiers, especially during World War I who walked through no man’s land, amid the haze of the trenches, and see there some living out of the Saviour being innocently led through the crowds of Jerusalem to His Cross to die for the salvation of the world. May we remember them, and they are worth remembering because we know our Gracious God remembers them and bids them share eternal life with all whom He loves. Amen.