On this eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour, our country remembers with gratitude all those who have given their lives in service of the nation. We have marked this occasion for more than a hundred years, since the armistice was signed bringing the First World War to an end.
Today I'm remembrering with awe and gratitude the deep sense of service the members of our armed forces have. They are servants and protectors of our country, willing to die if necessary on behalf of the citizens of our land. I'm mindful of the ideals of peace and freedom and wellbeing for all that our country strives for - imperfectly no doubt, but nevertheless hopefully always working for an ever-fuller realization of those ideals for all the diverse peoples of this land: indigenous and settler, immigrants and those born here - people of all kinds of abilities, sexualities, and religious convictions. I dream of this land as a place of welcome and hospitality and peacful embrace of the other, like the place described in Isaiah's great vision:
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:21-25)
That seems like a vision worth devoting one's life to realizing, and even worth dying for.
But there's more. For me this day has come to have a double remembrance.
As it happens, in the long centuries before 1918, November 11 had already been commemorated as the day Saint Martin, patron saint of soldiers. (In fact, the namesake of our church was born on this day in 1482 and named for the saint.) Martin of Tours, who lived in the 4th century, was a Roman soldier who became a conscientious objector because of his new Christian faith. A famous story tells of how he encountered a beggar shivering in the street. He drew his sword and cut his warm military-issue cloak in half in order to share with the poor man. Eventually Martin became a champion of Christ, a defender of the poor, and a peacemaker.
So for me November 11 is an occasion to renew my commitment to Saint Martin's way--Jesus' way--of peace and nonviolence. On this day I remember the horrors of war, violence, force, and power-over others--and recommit myself to the Way of the One who said, "Blessed are the meek, the humble, and the peacemakers." They (Martin and Jesus) remind me to always seek the third way: neither fight nor flight, but peaceful assertion and resistance if need be.
So on this day, November 11, I invite you to remember with gratitude all those who have laid down their lives in service of their country. I invite you to embrace that vision of shalom for our country that they died for, named so powerfully by Isaiah so long ago. And I invite you to pray for peace, and an end to all violence and bloodshed. And to renew your own commitment to bring to the world the peace of Christ which passes all understanding.