Remembrance Day 2006

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces (EXO 15:6)

Today is Remembrance Day, the day we remember all those who have died while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces in time of war. The date and time were originally chosen because the Armistice ending the fighting along the Western Front was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Among the Allies, the custom was to observe one minute of silence beginning at exactly 11:00 AM. After World War II this was extended to 2 minutes. Considering our close association with our neighbour to the south, it should be noted in passing that in the United States the practice is slightly different. There two days are set aside for remembrance: Dating from the Civil War, Memorial Day is set aside to remember the war dead in all the wars since that time; while November 11th is called “Veteran’s Day” and is set aside to honour those who served and who lived to return home.

Today, here in Canada, our thoughts turn to those Canadians who died in the effort to bring security and peace to a troubled world, and to reflect on how war fits into the Divine Providence of the Lord.

War is the most difficult human activity to understand.

On the one hand, war represents the total breakdown of civilization, when there is so much anger and hatred that people are not just willing, but eager to kill each other for the sake of some point of national pride. Things go on during wars that normal people cannot even comprehend. The mind rebels at the very thought that human being could do such things to other human beings. We refuse to believe without compelling evidence – and sometimes even not then.

On the other hand, we have a fascination with war. We like to read books or watch movies that have war as their theme. We are delighted when the “good guys” win, and love to hear the stories of the bravery of individuals who overcame the enemy through strength of character and intelligence. We travel great distances to stand on historic battlefields which have been carefully – even lovingly – preserved. Even the Word seems to glorify and exalt war, as in today’s lessons where Moses and the people celebrate the way that Jehovah has destroyed the Egyptian army; and in the book of Revelation where the Lord is seen as a commander leading His army off to war. There are many other similar references.

When thinking about a difficult topic like war, we need to remember that the Word was written for the sake of the internal sense, and the internal sense is for the sake of the angels. When the literal sense of the Word speaks of the death of a character, the angels are not saddened by the thought of death, but instead they rejoice because they understand that death signifies resurrection into spiritual life. The same kind of thing takes place when the scriptures describe warfare.

The song, attributed to Moses and the people, which was sung at the defeat of the Egyptian army represents the joy that the angels of heaven feel when they think of the Lord coming into the world to do battle with hell and to restore spiritual order! They are not celebrating the death of Egyptians, but the victory of good over evil. (See AC 8261)

War serves as an illustration of the spiritual battles that we all must endure.

In our own lives, there are the conflicts we have with other people, the conflicts we have as we struggle to do what we know to be right in the face of things that we wish to do anyhow.

In the Lord’s life while on the earth there were many battles, such as discovering His own Divinity and the necessary separation from His family, one by one, being tempted by every society of hell, and defeating them from His own strength. Finally, on the cross, the temptation of His own body, the hells, and even the angels of heaven, all imploring Him to find another solution, to come down from the cross.

War also serve as an illustration of the way the Divine Providence works.

As the Divine Providence presents itself in the most individual things, so insignificant and trifling, why should it not do so in the most individual things, not insignificant and trifling, such as matters of peace and war on earth, and matters of salvation and life in heaven?

War helps us to discover evil and root it out. Those who are unable to lift their minds above the things of the world look at the many troubles in the world, and see these terrible things as proof that there is no God. And, if there is no God, then there cannot be any Divine Providence. Everything is chaos, and it’s every man for himself.

We can have some sympathy with that view. It can be very difficult to see how a war, with murder, plundering, violence, and other terrible evils which are totally opposed to the concept of Christian Charity can exist within the operations of God’s own government of the world. How can a loving God let a war happen?

The hard thing to understand it that God lets it happen because He loves us! Since the time of the most ancient people, since the fall, our nature has been such that we love to rule over others. We love wealth, and we are willing to take risks to get it from others. The loves of self and the world are basic to every human life, and we could not be in any kind of natural or spiritual freedom if we were never permitted to express such basic loves. If we were not permitted to act according to our own freedom and according to our own particular reason, we would have nothing at all of spiritual life. We would seem to ourselves to be dead. So, the Lord allows us to act according to our own loves, even though we sometimes do evil to ourselves and to others.

There is a second reason why the Lord permits us to act out our evils, and that is so that we may see them for ourselves. Until such time as we see our own evils, and recognize them as such, we cannot be induced to root them out. (See DP 251:1) When we are ill, we don’t like the pain that we feel, but without the pain, we wouldn’t know that there was an infection lurking within, without the pain, a disease could grow unhindered until it killed the body. War allows us to see the sickness of the human spirit, and root it out.

The old will is in a constant battle with truth from the Word

The relationship of the will and the understanding is like that of the heart and the lungs. The lungs are both voluntary and involuntary. We breath while we sleep or work without thought, but we are also able to control breathing to swim or talk. The heart cannot be directly controlled. We can control our heart only indirectly, through exercise.

In the same way, we do not have direct control over our loves and feelings. No matter how much we want to, or how important it may be for us to do so, we cannot change our feelings. Our loves, then, are entirely under the Lord’s own sight. We cannot change our lives for the better without His involvement – nor can He change us without our freely accepting His help. He stands at the door and knocks, but we have to open the door to let Him in.

Divine Providence 251 says, For man from birth is like a little hell, between which and heaven there is perpetual discord. No man can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out; and this cannot be done without permissions, the causes of which are laws of the Divine Providence. This is why there are lesser and greater wars, the lesser between owners of estates and their neighbours, and the greater between the sovereigns of kingdoms and their neighbours.

Wars in the Word represent spiritual states

All wars, whatever their cause and character in this world, represent to the angels of heaven various states of the Church on earth, and correspond to them. This is just as true of the wars that we experience today as it is true of the wars that took place between the children of Israel and the various Canaanite nations as described in the histories of the Word. In Old Testament times the various nations that defeated and punished the children of Israel represented the particular evil to which they had most recently succumbed. (See DP 251:3)

Modern wars also correspond to spiritual battles.

It is not known in this world which kingdoms in Christendom represent the Moabites and the Ammonites, which the Syrians and the Philistines, and which the Chaldeans and the Assyrians, and the others with whom the Children of Israel waged war; and yet there are peoples who represent them. (DP 251:4)

While it may not seem to be true, even modern wars are governed by the Divine Providence of the Lord. A person who studies the Word, and who has examined his own life in the light of the teachings about the Divine Providence can see the action of Divine Providence in his own life in retrospect. Such a person can then extend that belief into the present and future, saying to himself, “I see the hand of Divine Providence everywhere in my past. So many things that seemed terrible at the time actually worked out to my benefit. Because of this, I am willing to trust that He is working at every moment on every level of my life, and everyone else’s life as well.”

Even a purely natural man can be carried away by the occasion and, during the time of a festival or while watching a moving pageant, may find himself giving thanks to God for the triumph of good over evil – at least in so far as he understands it.

Certainly the soldier going into battle will say a prayer no matter what his habit or convictions may have been in civilian life. But sad to say, those who are natural, when the moment is past, attribute the victory to the wise choice of the general, or good luck, or some other matter of chance. (See DP 251:5)

DP 251:6 teaches that the Divine Providence, which is called fortune, operates in the most individual of even trivial affairs, and if you acknowledge the Divine Providence in these you will certainly acknowledge it in the affairs of war.

The Lord does not will that we go to war.

It is not His will that evil exists in the world, nor that it will express itself by harming that which is good and innocent. But in order to make human beings responsive, able to freely respond to His care, the Lord had to take a risk. He had to create beings that were capable of turning away from Him as well as turning toward Him. With the possibility of eternal heavenly usefulness and happiness comes the possibility of eternal frustration and anger. And when such forces are active in the world, then the Lord must act as He always does, through men and woman who are willing to rise above the normal concerns of their daily lives, who are willing to risk all for the sake of a greater good.

For every combat soldier that has to fire a gun, there are 100 people in support who drive the trucks that carry food and supplies, cook the meals, order the supplies. For every hero, there are ten thousand who just did their job the best they could under difficult circumstances. Each one had a part to play. Each one made some kind of sacrifice to the greater good of all. Some interrupted their education. Others left good jobs. All had loved ones that had to be left behind. They put aside whatever it was they were doing and did what had to be done according to their own light and their own ability. They laid down their lives for their friends. It is right that we remember and honour these people as well.

But for today let us focus our thoughts and respect to those went into harm’s way for the sake high principles and ideals, and who suddenly entered into the Lord’s kingdom.

Before the battle he raises his mind to the Lord, and commits his life into His hand; and after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord – which he is then unconscious of remaining still in his mind, above his bravery. And then if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord (Charity 166). AMEN

First Lesson: EXO 15:1-10

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: “I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! {2} The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him. {3} The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name. {4} Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. {5} The depths have covered them; They sank to the bottom like a stone. {6} “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces. {7} And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble. {8} And with the blast of Your nostrils The waters were gathered together; The floods stood upright like a heap; The depths congealed in the heart of the sea. {9} The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, My hand shall destroy them.’ {10} You blew with Your wind, The sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters. Amen.

Second Lesson: REV 19:11-21

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. {12} His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. {13} He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. {14} And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. {15} Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. {16} And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. {17} Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, {18} “that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.” {19} And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. {20} Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. {21} And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. Amen.

Third Lesson: Charity 164. (V.)

Charity in the Commander of an army. By the commander of an army is meant its highest officer, whether he be king or archduke, or one constituted commander who holds authority from them. If he looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and if he acts sincerely, justly, and faithfully in the affairs of his generalship and command, he does goods of use, which are goods of charity. And as he perpetually meditates upon them, applies himself to and executes them, he becomes charity. If he is king or archduke, he does not love war, but peace; even in war he continually loves peace. He does not go to war except for the protection of his country, and thus is not an aggressor, but a defender. But afterwards, when war is begun, if so be that aggression is defence, he becomes also an aggressor. In battle, if he has not been born otherwise, he is brave and valiant; after battle he is mild and merciful. In battle he would fain be a lion; but after battle, a lamb. In his inner self he does not exult in the overthrow of his enemy, and in the honour of victory; but in the deliverance of his country and his people from the invasion of an enemy, and the destruction and ruin they would inflict. He acts prudently; cares faithfully for his army, as the father of a family for his children and servants; and loves them, every one, according as he does his duty sincerely and valiantly; and many such things. Cunning, with him, is not cunning, but prudence. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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