Adapted from sermon given on Remembrance Sunday 2019.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Today marks 101 years since the cease fire of the first word war. On 11th November 1918, the war ended and on 11th November 1919, many countries held the first ‘armistice day’, later called ‘Remembrance Day’, holding two minute’s silence at 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Today is 100 years since 11th November 1919, since that first act of remembrance. For 100 years, men, women and children have held two minutes of silence, either on Remembrance Sunday, on Remembrance Day, or both. During those minutes, we think of those brave people, from the first and second world wars, and all wars since, who laid down their lives for us, and that ultimate sacrifice that they made so that we might know freedom.
For many of us, it is a profound time, as we give thanks for the millions of sacrifices made, and hold in tension the pain of such real and immense loss.
Each Sunday, here at church, at many churches,we spend time contemplating a similar sacrifice. The Gospel reading that we heard this morning sums this sacrifice up well.
We heard how a good shepherd is more invested in his sheep than anyone else could be, more invested than somebody who is merely hired to do the job. That shepherd, is one who looks after and cares for his sheep. He does not desert them when the tigers come at night, but instead, he is so committed to them that he lays down his life for them.
He lays down his life for them, because he knows and loves them, and so that they can come and go through the sheep pen gate as they please, living a life of freedom.
It sounds like the sacrifice made by those people we remember at this time of year. People gave their lives so that we can live, so that our country and world can be a place of peace and freedom. By virtue of the fact that we live in this place at this time, we are all like the sheep described in the passage.
We are free, and we live in a free country. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, especially not at the moment, but we can all vote, drive, live and come and go as we please, within the law. This situation which we enjoy, and many in the world do not, as has been shown by the lengths that people from other countries will go to in order to have a chance of living here.
The country that we enjoy has come about through the bravery and sacrifice of others. That is why at 11 o’clock today, we remember their sacrifice, and spend time thinking of the people who laid down their lives for Britain and the freedom we enjoy because of them.
But, as I mentioned before, remembrance of sacrifice is not something that we just do yearly in church. We do, in fact, remember sacrifice every time we gather around the altar for communion. We will do so again when we share communion in a few minutes time.
We will hear words along these lines: On the night he was betrayed, the night before he died, Jesus had a meal with his friends. At the table, the friends broke bread and poured wine. Jesus took a piece of bread and said: this is like my broken body, which is sacrificed for you. When you eat bread, do so in remembrance of me.
He also passed the cup and he said: ‘this wine is like my blood, poured out for you gathered here and many others, so that sins can be forgiven and you can be free. Do this when you drink in remembrance of me’.
Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have freedom, we can approach God and have a relationship with him. Jesus wouldn’t let us, his sheep, be sacrificed to the tigers and so he laid his life down so that we can come and go and live freely.
In many ways, we are just like those sheep in the passage. In the freedom we enjoy as British citizens, in the freedom we enjoy as Christians. As we live in our country today and as we live as a post-Easter people. We have so much to grateful for, and we have even more to be mindful of.
As Christians, we are called to give thanks and remember: Jesus tells us to. And today we do so as we remember the sacrifices of men and women over the past hundred years and also Jesus’ death on the cross nearly two thousand years ago.
But, the difference is that three days later, Jesus rose again. In his rising again, Jesus showed us that death is no longer the end. That which separated us from God no longer does. Death has lost it’s sting.
And that is why we remember Jesus sacrifice for us around that table when we meet. Jesus is the good shepherd, and we are his sheep. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are sheep who have spiritual freedom. Through the sacrifice of so many brave men and women who fought for us, we are sheep who have physical, political, economic and social freedom.
So, in order to help us remember this, I have a little piece of white cotton wool for each of you to take home with you. You can keep it in your pocket, in your car, in your pencil case, in your makeup bag. Whatever works. I hope that you will take this with you and put it somewhere that you will stumble across it and think, oh what’s that? And then you’ll remember that I gave it to you and think about how you are a much beloved sheep. Take this cotton wool and remember to remember.
Remember that you are a sheep, not because you blindly follow, but because you live in a society which owes so much to the ultimate sacrifice of countless men and women over the past hundred years.
And you are a sheep because Jesus loves you, and listens to you, and thinks of you, and cares for you, and protects you, and knows you. Jesus died for you, he defeated death you for, he rose again for you, and he welcomes you into his sheep pen with the open, gentle and warm arms of a loving shepherd. Amen.