At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them. These words, taken from the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon, help us, today, to remember those who have died as a result of warfare. Traditionally the two World Wars, but increasingly we remember those brave soldiers who have fallen in recent years; in the Falklands, Iraq, and Afghanistan: Men, and women, who are known to us, who come from us and have fought for us. As the opening verse of our poem puts it
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
It is fitting that we pray for them during this month of the Holy Souls. We pray also for those left behind, especially for the orphans and the widows.
Two widows are presented to us in our readings and they have a clear meaning for us. In the male-dominated society of New Testament Palestine, the widow would symbolise all who have no voice, no means and no power. From these people all is taken from them. In the Gospel it is the scribes “who swallow the property of widows” and in the book of Kings, it is Elijah who is taking the last food of the widow and her son. Yet each is quite different.
Elijah asks and the widow gives. He knows that through God’s blessing she will have plenty as a result of her kindness and generosity. Today we would say she lives the Christian values. Whilst we don’t have the end of the story, we are later told her jar of meal, or flour, will last for a whole year. The scribes, on the other hand, are robbing those who hold them in such high esteem; an invaluable lesson for any priest who asks the people of his parish to be generous in their own offerings. No priest should be prancing around in his best clobber just to gain recognition and status or taking the places of honour in church or at the banquet. Well, not unless he wants to endure a severe sentence.
Nonetheless, it is right and proper that priests are held in high regard, as I know that you all do, because they bring Christ amongst their people. They come in the person of Christ as head of his Church. What the priest, therefore, asks of us is as though it were Christ himself asking. It is for this reason that the widow in the Gospel willingly gives all she has. She knows that in being asked to give more, to give everything, she is being asked by God to give of herself for His kingdom and she willingly pays. Jesus, who is watching the scene carefully, sees that the rich who give only what they have to spare, keeping the rest for themselves, in effect make no sacrifice. Most certainly giving up an extra holiday, or a flash car or a bigger house is as nothing compared to giving the food from your table or, like those grieving for our brave soldiers, giving up a son, or a daughter, a father or a mother, a husband or a wife. They are the people who are living the Christian values. They know, first hand, what it is to feel the pain of sacrifice.
Any sacrifice, for the furtherance of the kingdom of God, is to be honoured and those who ask for the sacrifice had best be sure it is for the right cause. Any politician who sends the armed forces into war must ensure, amongst other criteria, the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. Rowan Williams said last month, when talking of the War in Iraq: “In a world as complicated as ours has become, it would be a very rash person who would feel able to say without hesitation, this was absolutely the right or the wrong thing to do, the right or the wrong place to be.”
As we that are left grow old, let our remembrance be for a reason. Let it remind us of the pain of war and, most especially, let it remind us that only in God can peace be brought about.