The Final Sacrifice

by Sean Foster on November 10, 2013

Hebrews 9:27-28
And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
A-men.

What are we to do with Remembrance Day?

This is a question that clergy and those who lead worship wrestle with every year as they plan and prepare for worship. There is a tension that exists for clergy as they reflect theologically on Remembrance Day. On the one hand, there is a need and a very real desire to offer a service of Remembrance that is both helpful and healing, and I have personally worked very hard to do this while I lead worship. But at the same time, clergy also want to honor the Christian perspective towards war – that war is not to be celebrated. At best for us as Christians, war is often understood as a tragic necessity.

Many of you know that my favorite theologian is Karl Barth. Now Barth supported the Allied participation in the Second World War. Something had to be done. But he was also clear that war is not something to be glorified. In the third volume of his series on Church Dogmatics. Allow me to read to you what he had to say.

Does not war demand that almost everything God has forbidden be done on the broad front of war? To kill effectively, and in connexion therewith, must not those who wage war steal, rob, commit arson, lie, deceive, slander, and unfortunately, to a large extent, fornicate, not to speak of the almost inevitable repression of all the finer and weightier forms of obedience?
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III:4 The Doctrine of Creation, ed. GW Bromiley & TF Torrance, trans. GW Bromiley (London: T+T Clark International, 1986), 454.

War is not something to celebrate even when it is deemed to be just or even necessary. So what do we do with Remembrance Day?

It seems clear that despite the fact that we pray for wars to end, and for there to be peace in this world, war is not likely to go away. Like the poor, it will always be with us.

And yet for me, Remembrance Day is a very important day, and I would suspect the same is true for you as well. It is important that we remember and confront the tragedies of war.

As I reflect on Remembrance Day, I often hear people referring to our vets and those who go to war as heroes. And I wonder if it is appropriate that we refer to them this way. I am most grateful for their service and sacrifice. Their bravery and willingness to do what I would not be so willing to do and even fearful of doing is not missed or forgotten. But the vets who I have talked to – they do not consider themselves to heroes. And if you talk to veterans of war, or even those who are engaged in peace keeping efforts over seas through our armed forces; when you talk to them, one thing they never do is glorify war. Instead, as I listen to them speak of their experiences; they share the anguish they went through. One thing is for sure, no one who goes to war ever comes back the same.

But it goes back to sin doesn’t it? We live in a fallen state. We are not as we were intended. We are diseased; this whole world is diseased with sin. We live in a broken and hurting world that lashes out in war. And the cost of war is always life.

According to Wikipedia, in the First World War. There were 16 million killed. And 20 million who were wounded. I mean, the number is so big; you can’t even begin to get your mind around it.

64, 976 Canadians were killed in the First World War. Next year will mark one hundred years. We are not that far away from that war.

In Second World War, 60 million were killed. And of that 60 million, 45, 400 were Canadians.

The cost of war is life.

Death is a harsh reality, and as we read today in our lesson from the book of Hebrews it reads that, it is appointed for mortals to die once. Death is inevitable. But war takes people far too soon.

I believe Mark Twain once said: This life is a losing proportion; nobody gets out of it alive.

As I speak, people are dying in the world; some because of war.

Dustin Hoffman, in an interview, he said he wants the following epitaph put on his stone marker: I knew this was going to happen.

I mean, it is no revelation that we are going to die.

The Psalmist in Psalm 90 records a prayer of the prophet Moses. It reads:
The days of our years are seventy,
Or, even by strength, eighty years;
Yet, but their pride is labor and sorrow
For it passes quickly, and we fly away …

So teach us, Moses prays, to number our days, that we may gain heart of wisdom.

It seems that as we get older, we come to the realization that 70, or 80 years; or by today’s standards, 80 or 90 years is not that long.

Has anyone read the book: Tuesdays With Morrie? The book is written by Mitch Albom about a man he visits who is dying with ALS.

I recommend it to you. It is a good read and an easy read because it makes you reflect on life.

Allow me to read a short part of it to you.

Morrie, the man who is dying say’s the following to Mitch:

Take any emotion
• The love for a woman
• Or grief for a loved one
• Or what I am going through
o Fear and pain from a deadly disease.
If you hold back on your emotions
• If you don’t allow yourself to go through them
You can never get to being detached.

Why? Because:
• You’re too busy being afraid.
• You’re afraid of the pain.
• You’re afraid of the grief.
• You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails.
But,
• Throwing yourself into these emotions
• By allowing yourself to dive in
o All the way.
o Over your head even.
o You experience them fully and completely.

Morrie stopped and looked over at Mitch perhaps to make sure he was getting this right. And then he continued.

Mitch, I know you think this is just about dying, but its like I keep telling you. When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie (New York: Doubleday 1997), 103-104.

Remembrance Day, forces us to confront death. And in confronting death, hopefully we better learn how to live. Or as the Psalmist wrote, to count our days that we may gain heart of wisdom. It would be nice to think that Remembrance Day teaches us how tragic and senseless war can be. Hopefully it teaches us the value in finding better ways to deal with conflicts that to engage in war. We will pray for this.

For the Christian, death is not something to fear. In fact, Paul the Apostle embraced death. He wanted to die so that he could be united with his Lord and Savior. He talks about it in his letter to the church in Philippi. He described his dilemma saying that he was hard pressed between two choices. He could die and be with Christ, or stay and continue his ministry. Finally he concluded that to live was Christ, and to die was gain. (Philippians 1:21) Paul was a living example of someone who knew how to die, which taught him how to live.

As Christians, we celebrate Remembrance Day in light of what Christ has done for us.

Our text today reminds us that we are appointed to die once and after our death we are judged. This is not the great white throne judgment that the author is talking about; this is the judgment that follows immediately after death as to whether we go to heaven or hell.

But the passage continues to speak of the work of Christ on our behalf. That Christ bore our sins so that we could have life and life eternal. To reconcile us back to God. Christ died for our freedom.

Now, on Remembrance Day, we often give thanks for the freedom that was gained through the sacrifice of those who went to war. Those freedoms won for us, I do not take for granted. I am most grateful for the privilege and freedom that I have to gather publically in a building to worship corporately with other Christians our Triune God. Living in Canada, we have many freedoms. Freedoms for good and even freedoms for bad. Freedoms that are not enjoyed in all places. Some who go to worship are persecuted and risk their lives. There is no fear of that here.

But the freedom to which Christ has gained for us on the cross is not the freedom to do as we please, but rather the freedom to choose God. Through Christ, we are given the freedom to resist sin because we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Through Christ we are given the freedom to embrace life, instead of death. This is a different kind of freedom that we have in Christ. In Christ, we have the freedom to live as God intended. The freedom to embrace peace instead of hatred and war.

I don’t know if you have had the opportunity to read the most recent issue of the PRESBYTERIAN RECORD? David Webber writes a reflection entitled: When Peace Broke Out.

He writes: Remembrance Day and Christmas are both heavy on my mind. Lately I have been working on learning the John McCutcheon ballad, Christmas in the Trenches. He writes, it is a poignant song that tells the tale of a young English soldier in the trenches during the First World War.

It’s Christmas Day, 1914. Soldiers on both sides are hunkered down in their miserable trenches. They are trying desperately to survive the human meat grinder that caused more than 37 million causalities in four bloody years. Wafting over one of the bitter cold and unusually still battlefields of France, there comes a lone German voice. It’s singing a Christmas carol. Soon his comrades join him in harmony. Not to be outdone, the boys from the English side respond with God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. The German side counters with Stille Nacht and soon both sides are singing Silent Night together in their own languages.

A young German soldier climbs out of the trenches with a flag of truce and walks right into the gun sights of the other side. Soon men from both sides put down their weapons and walk into No Man’s Land as peace breaks out in the midst of a muddy, bloody war. Soldiers from both armies exchange gifts of chocolate, cigarettes and pictures of family back home. Before sundown, a friendly soccer match is played before soldiers drift back to their opposing trenches.

David Webber, The Presbyterian Record (For the Journey: When Peace Broke Out), November 2013, 47.

Peace! What are we to do with Remembrance Day? Pray for peace.

Christ has already started this work of peace by coming into the world. He is the final sacrifice. Jesus came to save the world. All of creation. That it would be restored.
• Humanity at peace with God.
• Humanity at Peace with one another.
• Creation no longer under the curse.

Peace.

A-men.

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