Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 32], rcl yr a
Sunday, November 12th, 2023
JOSH. 24:1-3A, 14-25; PSALM 78:1-7; 1 THESS. 4:13-18; MATT. 25:1-13
incline your hearts to the Lord
As a parish priest in Winnipeg, and as I struggled with this particular Sunday—Remembrance Sunday—how to observe it, and how not to observe it, I had a conversation with one of my wardens. She had been a girl of about eight years old in London around the time of the blitz. She told me a story about seeing a short parade of young men from her neighbourhood who were off to war. With great emotion, and I imagine as she re-experienced the emotions of herself as a girl, she was barely able to say to me, “what you need to understand Preston is that even as a girl I knew that some of them I would never see again. That they would die in the hope that I wouldn’t die.”
That exchange has remained with me for a good number of years now, and it’s helped me understand the importance of remembrance. For that warden, the act of remembrance that she was encouraging me to take more seriously, wasn’t about the glory of war. Nor was it about the Just War theological tradition. Neither was it about, even, the heroism of those young men. She was telling me, in her way, about what it was like to be in a country, and a city at war. A war that had traumatized her, a trauma that came not for her through the bombs that would destroy a good portion of London. It was a trauma that came from simply from the knowledge that in war, young men die. She reminded me that this is not something that we should forget.
I was reminded of this again just a short few weeks ago in talking to an Afghanistan veteran on Bell Lane. He was a medic, but that didn’t guarantee his safety, and so he bandaged up terribly wounded men as best he could, someone else stood by to shoot back at those shooting at him, the medic. He said there’s really only one rule of war. Young men die.
As true a saying for him as it was on that parade day in London for my warden, as true as that’s been in every war before or since. Perhaps the only difference now is that young women die too; neither should we forget though that the cost of war is counted not just by combatants—the cost of war is counted by non-combatants as well. Women and children included.
These stories help me to see that remembering is not the same as glorifying. To remember is to count the costs. It is to count the costs in very real and human terms—to remember each and every life cut short; to remember the toll of trauma on survivors; and to remember that the toll of trauma is too often visited on families over generations.
In our reading today from Joshua, Joshua says to the people “incline your hearts to the Lord.” Andrew Brockett, quite helpfully in his lectionary notes for today, reminds us that this passage is primarily about the faithfulness of God, and the faithfulness of God’s people to the God who is faithful. This is very important to remember, especially in a portion of the Bible that appears to be more about God’s people invading a land, and displacing and killing the indigenous people in that land, than it is about faithfulness.
But what if we were to do as Joshua says, and to incline our hearts to the Lord, even as we read the story of the invasion of Canaan? I think that if we were to incline our hearts to the Lord we could not see this story of war and invasion as some sort of guide to living faithfully. To incline our hearts to the Lord, as we read this story in the Bible, would lead us to incline our ears to the people of the land. And if we were to incline our ears to the people of the land in Canaan, we might incline our ears to the people of the land in Canada; and if we were to incline our ears to the people of the land in Canada, we would hear the voices of those who have suffered under colonial settler expansion.
And if we can hear the voices of those who have suffered under the colonial settler expansion in Canada, then we can never read Joshua, and the settling of the land of Canaan, the same way. If we were to incline our hearts to the Lord, the Faithful One, and to incline our ears to the people of the land, in faithfulness, we could not read the Bible so easily as a book that comfortably supports any warlike inclination of our own.
We would have to read it according to the costs paid by both the victor and the vanquished. And to read it according to the costs paid by the victor and the vanquished, could only push us toward peace in the land, and the Lord we know not as the God of War, but as the Prince of Peace.
And so this is what I would bring for us today, as we remember those who died from this parish in World War 1 and 2; and as we remember the costs that our friends, and our families, and the people of this land have borne in the many wars before and since. I would hope that we do remember, but that we remember faithfully, and according to the faithfulness of God.
That we remember the real costs of war, and that we hold fast to the fact that God’s side in war is the side of peace. And that we, in faith, “Incline [our] hearts to the Lord,” and that as we incline our hearts to the Lord, that we also incline ears to those who suffer on account of war; and that we do so always in praise of our Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
The Revd Cannon Preston Parsons PhD