Micah 4:1-4; Psalm 46; 1 Cor 15:50-56; Matthew 5:1-14
I don’t know how to feel today. I never know how to feel on Remembrance Day maybe because I feel so much. I feel gratitude for the Allied soldiers who went to Germany and fought and killed enemy soldiers, so that my children, who have a Jewish father, are free to go to synagogue, and are even able to live. I feel pride that my husband’s Jewish grandfather was an American pilot who flew troops back and forth between the States and Europe. I feel indebted to all of the young soldiers, teenagers really, who signed up to protect Canada against the Germans in both WWI and WWII, who gave their lives to end those wars and ensured that we could be worshipping here this morning, in a truly free and democratic country.
I also feel sorrow for all of the young soldiers who died, on both sides, including my grandfather’s brother in the German army. I feel distraught that the women on both sides of my family feared being violently raped by their enemies––our allies––at the end of WWII. I feel horror that my mother’s sister died at the age of fifteen when she was hit by a bomb dropped on Japan by the Americans. I feel outrage that Japan, the country of my mother viciously attacked other countries in the Pacific, including the United States, and I feel devastated that they had atomic bombs dropped on them, wiping out two entire cities.
I feel all of these things, and underneath them all, I feel a deep sense of guilt and lamentation that war is the result of our failure as a human race to find a way to achieve both justice and peace.
Whether it is because we are unwilling or unable, I don’t know, but I do know that as humans, we struggle to reconcile justice and peace. There have been times in our world’s history––we are again in a time in our world history––where we have felt called to fight for justice. To rise up to protect the vulnerable from those who would harm them, to stand up against bullies and dictators and draw the line and say, no more. We know that without those justice fighters of the past, without the soldiers of so many of our wars, past and recent, many of us would not be here today. We would not be able to freely worship God in church, in a democratic country where we truly value people of all races and religions. We give thanks for the courage and self-sacrifice of those who died, and killed, to defeat the enemy in order to create a world that is just. Jesus said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and so we say, blessed are those who fight for justice, for what is right, to protect what is good, to overcome evil.
But Jesus also said, “Blessed are the meek.” And there have been times in our world’s history––we are again in a time in our world history––where we have felt called to turn the other cheek. To pray for our enemy, to see them as our neighbours, to have compassion for their circumstances and for how awful it must be to live with hearts full of hate. We know that without the peacemakers of the past, without those willing to lay down their arms, without those who committed their lives and died for nonviolence, many of us would not be here today. We give thanks for those who work tirelessly for nonviolent ends to peace, and who die for it, and who end hate through acts of love. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and so we also say, blessed are those who refuse to bear arms and kill others, who seek peaceful means to protect what is good, to overcome evil.
And so we sit today in this tension. And I am unable to resolve it. Because as much as we give thanks for those who fight for justice and for those who work for peace, we know that there is a cost to all of this, a cost that we ourselves rarely pay. We know that our attempts at both justice and peace depend on the deaths of others.
Many of those deaths are those of our enemies. Those who die in war are often those who would just as quickly wish us dead, and who would, if not killed, kill those whom we love. And yet we are realistic enough, and compassionate enough, to know that those enemy dead were once someone’s baby, beloved toddler, gawky teenager. Their parents grieved their loss as much as we do our own. They, too, were made in the image of God as we are, and God wept at their deaths.
We know that the trauma of war becomes genetically encoded and passed down through subsequent generations, resulting in heightened anxiety and aggression in children and grandchildren who never experienced the original war, but nevertheless leading them into new ones.
We know that those whom we ask to kill for us, our soldiers, come back from deployment with deeply wounded souls. A Marine captain in Iraq and Afghanistan, Timothy Kudo, wrote that: “War makes us killers. We must confront this horror directly if we’re honest about the true costs of war …. I’m no longer the ‘good’ person I once thought I was. There’s nothing that can change that; it’s impossible to forget what happened, and the only people who can forgive me are dead.” [http://www.laurakkerr.com/2017/01/12/responding-to-moral-injury/] One of the costs of war is that in defense of us, in the name of justice, our soldiers have witnessed or committed acts that violate the ideals of justice, and they return to us with fractures in their souls that we simply don’t understand, fractures that sometimes lead them to end their own lives. In our attempts to establish justice and peace, yes, the guilty are punished and suffer, but so does everyone else. There is no reconciliation here.
And yet. “In the days to come ... [the Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The prophet Micah knew, and we know it too, deep in our hearts, that true justice and complete peace are possible, but only in the hands of God. Call it intergenerational PTSD, call it national trauma, call it original sin––we humans are far too entangled in the consequences of war to be able to truly reconcile the tension between justice and peace. But God can. God does. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” God brings about justice and peace together, for the innocent and guilty alike, for those who have killed and for those who have refused to kill. God establishes justice, and gives us a peace that we can’t achieve on our own. I don’t know how. I only know that God calls us all to God’s mountain, God invites us all to God’s table, side-by-side with our enemies, to receive it.
During WWII, the great-grandparents of my children were fighting for countries that were fighting each other. Japanese, German, Jewish American––for all I know, theirs paths may have actually crossed during the war. My children’s great-grandparents have been at war.
But let me put it another way. My children’s warring great-grandparents today are one family. Despite their history, God worked in their hearts and called them to peace. God is constantly calling us to participate in true justice and peace and God is constantly at work, in all of our hearts, to achieve this. We see this in Germany’s deep commitment to combatting the rise of neo-Nazi ideologies. We see it in the people that live side-by-side in the former Yugoslavia. We see it in the resolution of apartheid in South Africa, where both justice and peace prevailed. We see it in Israeli and Palestinian mothers supporting each other in the mutual loss of their children. We see it here, in Canada, where the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of former warring countries have come together to live in peace, and to love their neighbours as themselves. This is God’s work, and God calls us into it.
Today is a day to remember, but in the church it is also a day to hope. One day, it may be that our grandchildren and the grandchildren of our enemies, whomever they might be, might come together in one family. God does indeed bring justice and peace together. God brings all nations into one, and God gives new life to all. Today, as much as we remember that we are all implicated in the costs of war, we remember that we are all also invited to participate in God’s work of justice and peace. It is not our work to start, or to finish, but it is our work to join. And so, as we remember, let us also honour today by reaching out to someone who is different from us. As we pray for justice for the aggrieved, may we also pray for our enemies to receive as much grace and love and compassion as we wish for ourselves. As we pray for peace, may we engage in reconciliation, not revenge. May we lament, acknowledge our collective guilt, and then take a new step into the light. And may our God, who, as the Creator bringing light into the darkness, as the Redeemer healing us with new life, and as the Sanctifier making us whole, continue to lead us forward. Thanks be to God. Amen.