Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Joh 12:24)
Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his friends. (Joh 15:13)
At a Calvary near the Ancre
One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
And brawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
(Two poems by Wilfred Owen)
It is Remembrance Sunday; it is an overwhelming service yet very special to us in the parish. During the lockdown in 2020, I remember having this service outside the church building. In addition to the national anthem, we were allowed to sing one hymn for the first time since Covid started. The hymn was 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.' It was a significant moment where our prolonged silence, which looked like "the silence of eternity!", was interrupted by our singing voices. It was an illustrating moment summing up what remembrance Sunday is. In our remembering, we dare to break the silence of the forgetfulness of death (the land of forgetfulness - Psalm 88:12). The Christian faith provides and equips us with the Cross of Christ in this daring mission. Jesus was the grain of wheat on the cross; unless it fell into the earth and died would remain alone and be forgotten. But if the grain accepts to fall and die out of sacrificial love, it produces many new kernels, a plentiful harvest of new lives in many coming generations (John 12: 24). It shall grow not old and age shall not weary it.
This makes many writers and poets link the cross of Christ to the battlefield of the World War. Many had discovered in the cross the antidote of death, silence and forgetfulness. One of the examples is the English poet and soldier Wilfred Owen, one of the leading poets of WW1. Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918, a week before the war's end, at the age of 25. "At a Calvary near the Ancre" is a poem he wrote as a reflection on two notable battles in 1916 by river Ancre and river Somme. It is not an easy poem to read for your comfort as he uses double meaning as a crossroad to provoke the readers to choose where they stand at the cross of Jesus and the conflict of our world. For example, reference to the Soldiers could point to those who mocked Christ on the cross; or those following him in his war against evil and the beast. The same is true for the disciples, those who deserted Christ or stood with Christ in his suffering.
Finally, if this crossroad confuses us, and if we are in doubt which road we shall take, let the greater love lead us, and shape the road we will walk. Because where there is love, there is God as God is love.