Power, peace and silence
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
10 November 2013, 10:50 (Remembrance Sunday)History is written by the victors – this challenging and thought-provoking phrase has been attributed to many people including Machiavelli, Napoleon and Churchill.
It doesn’t matter who said it, but we should all reflect on its claim: that whoever conquers militarily, politically and economically is able to write down the accepted interpretation of how the world has come to be as it is today.
The great wars of the last century are no exception and although there are many interpretations amongst historians, one thing that we cling to, is that in some profound way, freedom prevailed over tyranny.
And so the Two Minutes’ Silence came into being as a national moment in 1919, born in the Armistice of 1918 at the eleventh hour of November 11th.
The noise and turmoil of war came to an end: the noise of the guns ceased and peace prevailed – albeit for only a short period of 20 years or so, and even today, this land is engaged in war as men and women risk and give their lives for this land and the cause of freedom.
We live in a teeming, noisy, active, bustling world and which never seems to stop in the acceleration of the pace of change.
On this Remembrance Sunday amidst all this activity, truly, silence is golden.
Two minutes are shared when something profound and different can affect us all; when our minds are given a different focus and our hearts are warmed by thanks.
Many people today find silence quite difficult – they are unused to it and find it threatening and strange.
It is a real contrast to the sounds of battle and bombing that those who lived through the war still can relive in sadness and even terror.
Earlier this year in August, my wife, Ruth and I were in Dulwich in south London for the unveiling of one of a series of plaques set up in and around the village neighbourhood where V1 bombs had claimed many lives.
The speeches and unveiling ceremony also included the eerie and foreboding wail of the air-raid warning siren – and for at least one person it evoked an agonising fear and sweat.
Memories are often evoked by smell, taste and sound.
What does the silence do for each of us?
Certainly it forces us to live within ourselves even be it for only 120 seconds.
How do we fill it?
Some will bring faces and names of loved ones, others pictures from newsreels and reports.
Into the silence comes a great truth: our lives are finite and the potential of who we are and might be is as precious as what we have been and what we have achieved in this world.
History is indeed written by the victors but the future is written by God.
Our Bible reading from St John’s Gospel sees Jesus on trial before the Roman governor of Judea, having been flogged and mocked as a king wearing a purple robe and crown of thorns.
Pilate cannot find any case against him but the mob is crying for crucifixion. He is frightened but powerful and interrogates Jesus: where do you come from?
Jesus does not answer and his silence provokes Pilate to state his imperial authority to free or to crucify him, and in this unequal and lethal situation, Jesus challenges both Pilate and his power.
This episode is all about power: real, eternal, assumed, provisional and feigned.
It is the stuff of politics, human affairs, war and peace.
And into our two minutes of silence, Jesus invades our world today.
As victors and the beneficiaries of power, he is on trial.
Jesus the saving victim turns to us and asks who gave us our power and freedom?
What indeed is truth and meaning? We live knowing about wars and often yearning still for peace – but what is this life about?
Is love stronger than death? Can it give us peace within as well as peace amongst ourselves as a human family?
By gathering here in this cathedral, our remembering, our lives and our nation, are challenged by Jesus who is called the Prince of Peace.
His peace is so utterly different from an armistice and an absence of hostilities.
His peace is the shalom of Judaism which embraces completeness, prosperity, and welfare and every aspect of human wellbeing.
It comes from God as gift and grace: it is not of our making and belongs to the Kingdom which is eternal and beyond the limits our understanding.
At the same time it forms the very building blocks of relationships and personality into which we have been born as created beings, made in the image of God himself.
In the silence, Jesus the victim, Christ the Prince of Peace, comes to touch us at the very heart of who we are – first as individuals, then as family, community, society and nations.
Rivalry and competition in terms of ownership, status and power are literally overruled and superseded by the love which comes from on high but dwells more completely in the victimised, the deprived and the outcast rather than the mighty and the rich.
It is a radical and disturbing truth.
The Unknown Soldier buried in Westminster Abbey holds a special place in our national remembrance but even an even more special place in the heart of God – where all our unremembered and irretrievable living is touched by new life and eternal meaning.
It is this that we need to take into the rest of our lives both personally, politically and socially.
In birth and death, in sleep and in silence we are all equal – not only before God but also amongst ourselves.
A new sort of peace is born in this silence and it comes in simplicity, vulnerability and passivity.
We have to stop and let be; we have to remember.
Yes, we have to remember who we are, who others have been and what we all can be with the power of love, the power of God.
It is such a different sort of power and belongs to a Kingdom that is utterly different too.
Yet this Kingdom is given to us and it changes all that has been and is: the dead are raised and time melts into eternity.
There is a future and it is only ours by grace.
What a change these 120 seconds could make if we the powerful would but let down our defences and let in the freedom that comes from beyond us.
There may still be wars and disasters but there can also be hope born of forgiveness, mercy and compassion.
These are the truths of remembering God as well as ourselves.
At the heart of Judaism and Christianity lies remembrance.
But it is a remembrance not of our glory and for Christians that glory in time was born in a stable and reigns from a cross.
And that is the victory that writes our history and our future: the saving love of God.
Soon we will leave the cathedral and our national Remembrance will begin to fade from our minds.
Please take the silence, and its gift and promise of a world and power beyond our own making into the noise and busyness of your lives.
May its peace remake us day by day.