There is and should never be a place for national flags in a church. There is no place for militarism. There is no place for the glorification or the justification of war. This Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, churches up and down the country will reveal who they really are.
The poppy has become an ambiguous symbol which many of us wear under pressure and with a significant degree of discomfort if we wear it at all. That, of course, does not mean that we are disrespectful of the war dead. The dead were never consulted as to the way we should remember them.
What is critically important for the church is its context. Its context is political because the church is political but the church can be a spiritual community or merely a reflection of the political mood of the day. It can be a force for change and transformation or pretty much a mirror image of everything else around it.
Remembrance Sunday is therefore one of the most dangerous and difficult times for the church. It is here that we reveal who we really are. It is very tempting and all too easy to become caught up in dualistic thinking and to talk about enemies, to use the language of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Jesus didn’t therefore we can’t. He negated the enemy by turning the other cheek, praying for the persecutor and meeting pain and loss and humiliation with love. He washed feet and walked the second mile.
Jesus saw the same mess and division everyone else saw and yet he moved things forward dramatically and tremendously effectively. When the righteous were about to stone a woman for threatening their righteousness, Jesus invited them to look at themselves and the crowd departed. And of those most often and easily condemned by everyone (tax collectors and those in the sex industry), he said they would enter the kingdom (read: understand what God is about) before the so called religious leaders and righteous.
When the church allows the language of the justification and glorification of war to enter its liturgy and theology and songs (and it has and it has to reject all of this) then it has ceased to be the church because it has forgotten what Jesus taught.
Remembrance Sunday is extremely important but it is about transcending the past, the pain, the loss, the grief because that is what faith is. Faith cannot operate with the language of friend and enemy and this side and that side and black and white. It sees all of this and hears all of this and lives with all of this and it challenges all of this.
About six months ago, I invited the children who were in church that morning to tell me what we’d need if we were to build a church. I asked the wrong question and they looked around and told me what I’d need to replicate the building in which we worship. The church has nothing whatsoever to do with buildings.
If, as adults, we ask the wrong question as we think about what the church is and we fail to understand that Jesus placed a tremendous emphasis on a single reality, seeing everything as connected, as one, then we will build churches with very large and locked doors, with high walls and fences.
That is the language of division and justification, of certainty and delusion, of us being right and them being wrong.
As I continue this Sunday, this Remembrance Sunday, with the second in the series of talks, addresses, sermons, on what the church is and how it functions, we’ll be considering this, from the First Letter of John (1 John 2: 6-11),
‘Whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.’
This is all about transcending the ego, reconciling and being reconciled, doing the spiritual work which transforms us and enables us to see that there is no enemy at all, that faith sees what everyone else sees and yet, whatever it sees, it responds in love and that out of that love the church as a spiritual community in which serious spiritual work is done is born.