Saturday, November 10, 2007

Father Eternal

11 November 2007 – Proper 27C – Luke 20:27-38

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Father Eternal

Today is the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – that day when the Holy Spirit blew in on the disciples making them a new people.

It is also Veterans Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918 an armistice – the cessation of fighting in World War One, The War to End All Wars – officially went into effect. The flowers on the altar mean to honor all war veterans in the United States along with John W. King, Jr, Sallie Roberts’ father.

At 11am this morning, an honor guard of all US Military Services will execute “Present Arms” at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, the Presidential Wreath is placed on the tomb, and Taps is played. Officially made a day of observance in 1926 as Armistice Day, as one war has succeeded another, it was renamed Veterans day in 1954.

Today our service begins and ends with hymns, poems really, written around the time of World War One, expressing the hopefulness of a world that truly believed it would be the War to end All Wars.

Turn Back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways was written in 1916 by Clifford Bax at the request of Gustav Holst who wanted a new set of words to go with the tune, Old 124th. Holst had lost both his sons in the slaughter of the battlefields of Ypres and the Somme.

In the midst of The Great War, Bax helps those who sing this hymn to imagine a world one day when the “Earth might be fair, and all her people one: for not till that hour shall God’s whole will be done.” The combined hope of Bax and Holst, one must imagine, is that repeated singing of these words might bring us all to that day when all people shall be at peace. Bax died in 1962, after a Second World War, Korean war and in the midst of the Viet Nam War - no doubt unhappy that his hymn must still be sung in the future tense

Similarly, Laurence Housman, younger brother of the poet A.E. Housman, penned Father Eternal in 1919, after The War to end All War, and turned the copyright over to the fledgling League of Nations Union – a precursor of the present day United Nations.

Somewhat more chastened than Bax, Housman concludes with a penetrating question still seeking our answer: “How shall we love thee, Holy , Hidden Being/If we love not the world which Thou hast made?/O give us brother love for better seeing/Thy Word made flesh and in a manger laid: Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.”

Again, Housman and the young League of Nations no doubt hoped that after World War One the nations of the world would come to a change of heart, and mind, and soul. Like Bax and Holt, Housman would like music and poetry to draw us and all people into a new and more profound relationship with God and with one another. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul; and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Poetry and Music are two forms of human expression that attempt to draw us into a deeper experience of and relationship with God – the God of the living Jesus calls us to place at the center of this life and the next.

How fortunately coincidental that the lectionary reading for today falls on Veterans Day. In it we find Jesus being challenged by the Sadducees, “those who say there is no resurrection.” It has been said that the Sadducees were Sad because they did not believe in the resurrection. If they had, they might have been called the Gladucees!

The Sadducees pose what seems to us a silly question, but at the time was meant to provide some glimmer of hope for the woman whose husbands kept dying leaving her childless. Children represented the continuation of the family name, and were the only form of Social Security for a widow in those days. Death posed a problem for those who were not Gladucees – those who did not believe in the resurrection.

Jesus, of course, observes that they are comparing apples and oranges. Death has no dominion in the next life, therefore no marriage or children are needed, since all live with God. This we know, says Jesus, because all the way back at the burning bush, God revealed God’s name to Moses: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since he is the God of the living, not the dead, to him all of them are alive. Now living with God they too are living forever and forever free.

This is the core of the Christian virtue of Hope – all who are in the Lord are alive in the Lord. The day when “Earth might be fair…and all her people one” is closer than we think. Eternal life as life lived with God is closer than we think. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus represent a God who is a determined lover who will not let the Beloved go. God is just that God with whom relationship is for ever. And if need be, we can add, “and ever.”

For now we are to keep singing. For it is in our singing that God is glorified. It is in glorifying God, letting God’s will be done, that those who have fought for peace on earth will be honored and remembered.

Father Eternal

Father eternal, Ruler of creation,
Spirit of life, which moved ere form was made;
Through the thick darkness covering every nation,
Light to man’s blindness, O be Thou our aid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Races and peoples, lo! we stand divided,
And sharing not our griefs, no joy can share;
By wars and tumults love is mocked, derided,
His conquering cross no kingdom wills to bear:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Envious of heart, blind eyed, with tongues confounded,
Nation by nation still goes unforgiven;
In wrath and fear, by jealousies surrounded,
Building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Lust of possession worketh desolations;
There is no meekness in the sons of earth;
Led by no star, the rulers of the nations
Still fail to bring us to the blissful birth:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

How shall we love Thee, holy, hidden Being,
If we love not the world which Thou hast made?
O give us brother love for better seeing
Thy Word made flesh, and in a manger laid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Laurence Housman, 1919

By Permission of the League of Nations Union

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