Remembrance Sunday: Archbishop of Dublin’s sermon in TCD Chapel
A service for Remembrance Sunday, 8 November 2020, took place via Zoom for Trinity College Dublin’s Chapel. Archbishop Michael Jackson was the preacher and following the service the Provost laid a wreath at the Hall of Honour.
In his sermon the Archbishop said: “On this Solemn Day of Remembrance, we need to wrestle and to treasure memory not as something relating solely to the past but as something relating to the future. The anxiety of the Christians of Thessalonika has not gone away on Remembrance Sunday 2020. We are still caught in the storm of an argument about where we who live stand in relation to those who have died. This question is particularly poignant and particularly forceful in relation to those who have died in Two World Wars. We remember locally today in particular those who, as Members of this University, served and lived and served and died in both World Wars. We are committed to peace and we are committed to justice. Others have been thus committed before. We are committed to diversity and to inclusion. Others have been thus committed before. We are committed to freedom and opportunity for all. Others have been thus committed before”.
You can watch the Archbishop’s sermon in this video or read the text below.
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY THE CHAPEL OF TRINITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN Readings: Joshua 24.1–3a, 14–25; 1 Thessalonians 4.13–18
1 Thessalonians 4.13: We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have dies, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
The Archbishop of Dublin
Being asked not to grieve is a big ask and a tall order. Just as there is always someone who is coming to life, so there is also always someone else who is going to death. Just as there is always someone who is telling a joke, so there is also always someone else who is shedding a tear. So, then: Is this description of life just an unending cycle where each event and each emotion cancel out the other? Is there any sense of direction in it, is there any energy in it, is there any purpose to it? Of course there is! Life as we know it and live it inevitably contains both sorrow and joy. Our personal contribution to life is in large part framed by our reaction and response to both sorrow and joy as presenting emotions.
If we consider the particular events in world history that gather us together this morning, in real time and by virtual communication, the remembrancing of Two World Wars, we get some sense of such a combination of darkness and light and their essential interplay. The horrors and the relentlessnesses and the devastations of Two World Wars have played sustained havoc with individuals and civilizations, distorting and disfiguring them and caricaturing them in a downward and a negative direction. They have also threatened peace and stability. Inevitably, they create a worked example of grotesque diminishment of The Other. And The Other is essential to our understanding and embracing our own identity.
At the same time, there rose from the gnarled barbed wire and the black curling smoke and the annihilation of trust the whole concept of Human Rights and the European Union as we now have it. We should, of course, have hoped to have these by different and eirenic means but that was not going to happen. And the important thing for us today is that we have them at all. And like everything else that we have, they are as good as we make them to be. They cannot do what we do not do. They cannot be what we do not become as we respond to or reject the opportunities they offer.
Both individuals and nations are bound up in wars. Wars spill in both of these directions. When Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, he was asking them to make up their minds and to follow through on the consequences of decision. He had an uphill task it seems. In the middle of our First Reading, this is expressed starkly: Then Joshua said to the people, You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. (Joshua 24.21) Joshua decided that he needed to resolve the issue there and then on that very day by making a covenant with the people and making statutes and ordinances for them there and then at Shechem. These people were on the move to what would become their land. They needed to be held to account. They needed to discern, to clarify, to codify and to develop their memory of themselves with precision, with accuracy and with creativity. They are about to establish a settle nation. They really need to do well.
There is a number of things we can take to heart on Remembrance Sunday from the Readings for today. We are invited, through the First Letter to the Thessalonians, to honour and to give due place to those who have died while we live. This is needed in St Paul’s Letter precisely because there was an acute expectation that The Lord would return during the lifetime of the first Christians. But then they had to work out a way to cope with the lengthening of memory because of the continuing delay in this return happening. And so the Christians in Thessalonika had to come to some understanding of both themselves and those who had died within this framework. Any and every post–war generation has to work this out, not least because the manner of war–death and continuing war–injury is so brutal and so non–negotiable. In such a way as this, we are given an important insight into the creation of identity in The Book of Joshua. We meet Joshua in his last throw of the dice before he dies. He explains to the Israelites their responsibilities before he delves into their opportunities. Today, we want and we go for opportunities first and often responsibilities come in a very poor second. But this is the rhetoric of consumerism rather than of the common good. It is his last throw of the dice. Verse 29 states very factually: After these events, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten.
Our First Lesson makes it abundantly clear that Joshua wants the people to know that remembrance and remembering of who they are and, just as important, who they are not is vitally important. The power of memory as identity, as community, as belonging, as nurture and as connection to God all come through forcefully in the rhetoric and in the content of this dying old man. The Jewish people in their religious self–understanding and in their religious expression throughout history have continued to put significant energy into memory and remembrance through repetition, through interpretation, through ritual, through prayer and through rejoicing and through the conviction that they have a divinely given entitlement and need to wrestle with God as their ancestor Jacob wrestled with the angel. Wrestling gives them a place at the table. Wrestling gives them identity with God.
On this Solemn Day of Remembrance, we need to wrestle and to treasure memory not as something relating solely to the past but as something relating to the future. The anxiety of the Christians of Thessalonika has not gone away on Remembrance Sunday 2020. We are still caught in the storm of an argument about where we who live stand in relation to those who have died. This question is particularly poignant and particularly forceful in relation to those who have died in Two World Wars. We remember locally today in particular those who, as Members of this University, served and lived and served and died in both World Wars. We are committed to peace and we are committed to justice. Others have been thus committed before. We are committed to diversity and to inclusion. Others have been thus committed before. We are committed to freedom and opportunity for all. Others have been thus committed before.
As we stand in silent remembrance, with millions of people round the rotating globe, and as we remember in that silence those we have never seen or known, nor could we have done so, let us remember to remember the words to Joshua and the words of Joshua in his dying moments. Let us take them today with us out into a life of dynamic remembering:
And the people said to Joshua, No, we will serve the Lord! Then Joshua said to the people, You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.
Let us be careful that our idealism matches our actions. Let us be careful that our promises match our consistency. Let us be careful that our interest in ourselves does not absorb our responsibility for others.
Let us be careful that our remembering does not fade. It was, after all, Adolph Hitler who said: But who remembers the Armenians? The Armenian Genocide of 1915 resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The Holocaust of World War Two resulted in the death of 5 million Jews and other people of Otherness at the hands of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. Clearly, Adolph Hitler made the calculation that nobody would remember. Mercifully, he was entirely wrong. It is important not to forget, because let us be sure and let us be clear those who calculate and pre–meditate to do evil do not forget. Genocide, in every century, is always a possible outcome of warfare. Holding memories, remembering genocide and wrongdoing – it is essential that good people do this. We always need to learn from this and to guard against it. Today the question still is very live in our time: Who is remembering the Armenians? – and all the other Others whom we have forgotten.