Revelation 2:10, 22-25
Who will we remember on this Memorial Day weekend?
This holiday, of course, is for the recognition of those who have died while in service in our American armed forces. It is important to remember them. Perhaps you have a particular person, or many, in mind. It is too easy for those of us without a personal loss to forget how grave a risk we ask of our fellow citizens and their families. And so we will remember in our prayers today, those who have died in service, including the names of those written on the plaque in North Hall.
We remember those who have died in service. And, I wonder if we might remember others, too. There are so many others who die within our country due to violence. Victims of gun violence who have died in schools and at concerts and in places of worship. Victims of violent prejudice, who are killed because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they practice, their sexuality or gender expression. Victims of violent policies who have died crossing our borders or for lack of sufficient healthcare or by capital punishment. The list is sadly very long; I have not gotten to the end of it. We live in a society that uses violence not only on those outside of our borders, but also against one another.
Our scriptures hold mixed messages when it comes to war and violence. On one hand, they are honest that violence is often a reality between people and nations. Within our scriptures, people call out to God for help in time of war, for assistance in victory. At the same time, both our Hebrew and Greek scriptures hold the sanctity of human life as one of their highest values. The ten commandments tell us: you shall not kill. The great commandment tells us: love your neighbor as yourself. Both Moses and Jesus tell us to love the strangers in our midst. Jesus says: love even your enemies.
To add to this witness, we have the gift of the vision from the book of Revelations that we hear today. The book of Revelation is a book full of visions, received by a mysterious figure sometimes called John of Patmos. Folks disagree about whether this amazing book is about the past, the present, or the future. The end of the book, part of which we hear today, describes a new heaven and a new earth: a new reality in which God’s ways are fully realized.
In this vision, there’s no need for a designated place of worship; God herself is the temple. There’s no need for a sun or a moon; God themselves is the light. The gate of the city is never shut: there’s an open door policy. In the middle of the city, a river of life flows, and there is a tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. In this place, fruit is plentiful and each person is precious. God’s name is on everyone’s forehead.
What would it be like, to live in a place like that?
Some people live like they’re already in that place; as if they’re already a part of that vision. Maybe you have met someone like that. I thought again about Jean Vanier, who I mentioned when he died a few weeks ago. A little more about him today.
Jean was a man of privilege, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. In 1964, he gave up that prestigious job and bought a small, rundown house without plumbing or electricity in a village north of Paris. Jean invited two men named Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux to share the house with him. Both of these men had been living in an asylum and did not have family support. Jean believed they needed friendship more than anything else; and so together they shopped, cooked, and washed up. It was the beginning of something much larger, communities for those with intellectual disabilities to live alongside those without them, all around the world.
One friend wrote, “The extraordinary thing [about Jean] is his capacity for attention, his concentration on whoever is with him… and his ability to draw out their best qualities, to show them that they are valuable and have gifts to give to others … This is the healing quality that makes it possible for people to receive peace from him, and so become peacemakers.” (Frances Young)
In his own words, Jean tells us: “Until we realize that we belong to a common humanity, that we need each other, that we can help each other, we will continue to hide behind feelings of elitism and superiority and behind the walls of prejudice, judgement, and disdain that those feelings engender. Each human being, however small or weak, has something to bring to humanity. As we start to really get to know others, as we begin to listen to each other’s stories, things begin to change. We no longer judge each other according to concepts of power and knowledge or according to group identity, but according to these personal, heart-to-heart encounters. We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgement and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding. It is a movement of the heart. We begin to see each other as brothers and sisters in humanity. We are no longer governed by fear but by the heart …Is this a utopian vision? If it is lived at the grassroots level, in families, communities, and other places of belonging, this vision can gradually permeate our societies and humanize them.”
Who will we remember this Memorial Day weekend? And what would a fitting memorial be for them?
Let us receive the vision from Revelation as a gift this morning, and as an invitation. Perhaps we already live in God’s city; or perhaps, by imagining that we do, we can make it so. The creation of peace begins small, person-to-person. It begins with simple things like attention, curiosity, vulnerability. We can all be a part of it.
Please pray with me. Loving God, may no one of your precious children go unknown, unloved, unmourned. Teach us again and again how to practice peace with one another. Grant us patience and perseverance, until we can recognize your name on the foreheads of neighbors, and strangers, and even enemies. Amen.