Good Shepherd Remembrance Sunday service, 8/11/2009
Hebrews 9.24-end , Mark 1.14-20
"He's coming home"; "She's coming home": three words which are so special and so important to the families of servicemen and women whose loved ones are away on active service.
"He's coming home"; "She's coming home": spoken with joy at the prospect of seeing someone so special to you after months when the house has seemed so empty without them.
"He's coming home"; "She's coming home": spoken with great relief after all the worry about how they were, if they were safe; hearing all those news reports about another soldier lost, and becoming so anxious that next time that soldier on the news report might just be the one you love.
Everybody loves a homecoming - we all have pictures in our minds of the great homecomings of the First and Second World Wars, men in uniform waving from the deck of their ships as they pull into port, thousands waving back; the emotional embraces at the harbour side when lovers, partners, kin are reunited. The same picture at railway stations, the dirty smoke filling the platform failing to dampen the spirits of those reunited with their loved ones.
And - something me and my generation only know from grainy black and white newsreels which we've seen on TV but which many of you know first hand - the gatherings of hundreds and thousands of people on the streets, to greet those returning from war. Flags flying, bands playing, handkerchiefs waving - joy all around. Coming home - it is so special. Homecomings like these still happen in our cities today: Lime Street and the steps of St George's Hall fill up with families and well-wishers as the latest contingent of servicemen and women return from their term of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And the smaller homecomings are just as special too. The first visit of the returning young serviceman to his beloved grandmother, the sideboard in her flat full of photographs of that same young man in uniform, and other older photos of other young men in uniform: the young man's father and grandfather in their time of service. The grandmother has spent so much time in her life waiting for moments such as these: special moments when the doorbell rings and her heart leaps because the young man in her life has come back home.
These thoughts might have reawaken memories for you: of homecomings you have made yourself on return from active service, or of homecomings you have waited for and thrilled at when they have happened: your waiting for your loved one to return. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and women coming home is such a vital part of any conflict. It can mean that war is over - completely. Or it can mean that there's at least a break, some respite for the family while the loved one is back with them.
Coming home is a vital part of any conflict; we all long for it. At times the call from ordinary people to governments and military leaders is: 'Bring our troops home', when, as now in Afghanistan, we begin to sense the futility of the conflict and are appalled at the waste of young lives.
Coming home is a vital part of any conflict - and not everyone makes it. Today we particularly remember those who did not come home from the wars we know best and some here fought in: the global wars of the twentieth century, and the ongoing conflicts today where our men and women are involved on the front line. Today we remember them and their families who know the pain of a homecoming which never happened: not in the way they had hoped. A homecoming to be buried with honours is a bitter homecoming. Worse, to be buried in some foreign field and never to come home again. Those this has happened to: today, we particularly remember them.
God knows about homecomings; and shares them with us: the joyful ones, the relieved ones, the bitterly sad ones.
Today we commemorate all those people who have been called away from their homes and jobs to serve their country in a mission for good: to fight the cause of right and justice. And we think of their homecomings, lament the homecomings which never happened for them. Knowing that God shares all this with us.
We Christians take our example from Jesus who called people away from their homes and jobs to follow him in a mission for good: to share the good news of his kingdom with others. He calls us now to follow him, in just the same way. And we ask the question: if we follow Christ and embrace his mission, will there be a homecoming?
The writer of Hebrews provides us with an answer: yes there is a homecoming for those who serve and follow Christ. Hebrews 9 says,
... just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Christ will come again. And if we wait for him to come, he will come again - to save us. This is the hope for all who believe in Jesus; the hope that he who has overcome death by rising on the third day, will share his victory with us. He will come again to his people - he will come home - to save us.
On Remembrance Sunday we think of our homecomings from the missions we have been sent on. We recall those we have waited for, to make their return to us. We commemorate soberly and with due dignity those who never made the homecoming they and their loved ones so dearly desired.
And, as Christians, we do all this in the hope that all the conflict, all the suffering, all the sadness of the life of the world as we know it and have known it, all these things will pass away: that all of the homecomings we have known and we will know in our span of life will
be eclipsed by tat one great triumphant homecoming: when Jesus Christ comes back to his people, to greet us, to save us, to take us to an eternal home.
Where we share the joy of eternal life with him and all those who have gone before us in faith, not least of course, those special to us who are particularly in our hearts today.