Jesus said, of the widow: “She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
It’s tempting, perhaps, to read this as a lesson about money and sacrificial giving (especially in this stewardship season). But Jesus sets us straight — as he so often does: it’s not about money, it’s about life. The woman put in her whole living. She gives neither fortune nor tithe — but her bion [Greek], her livelihood.
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For 100 years, November 11 has been known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting in World War One ceased. At that moment, Times correspondent Edwin L. James wrote from the front, “four years’ killing and massacre stopped, as if God had swept His omnipotent finger across the scene of world carnage and cried, ‘Enough!’”
So just as we remember all the departed on All Souls Day, and all the Saints on All Saints Day, on Remembrance Sunday we call to mind the soldiers, chaplains, medics, nurses, cooks on the front lines, and mothers, children, grandparents on the home front — those who “put their whole living” into what was supposed to be the war to end all wars.
In 1914, just weeks after Britain declared war on Germany, H. Hensley Henson preached at Norwich Cathedral: “This War is, we may dare to hope, destined, by the Governing Mercy of the ALMIGHTY, to cleanse the vision of the nations, and to clear their path, so that in the Retrospect it will be seen to bring appreciably nearer the Final Overthrow of the Theory and Practice of International Violence, and to hasten the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace.” [punctuation as in original]
Sadly, we have not seen the “overthrow of the theory and practice of international [— or indeed national —] violence.” And we are hard-pressed to believe the long-awaited coming of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace been hastened.
The war that was fervently hoped to be the last will instead be remembered for many firsts: The first war to be fought on land, air and sea. The first major use of poison gas. The first use of tanks. The first British women in military service. The first war cemeteries.
We observe this Armistice Day in some concrete ways: there’s a wreath of red poppies at the shrine of Christ the King — see the note of explanation about their significance in your bulletin. And if you arrived between 11 and 11:10, you may have noticed a group of people outside, standing quietly with heads bowed, listening to the bell toll 100 times.
This is in keeping with the Advent’s longstanding tradition of honoring the men and women who played the always complex, often contradictory role of peacemaker by entering into war. Those who said they would die for their country, their beliefs. And what’s more, would kill for them.
In 1914, the outbreak of the war in Europe sparked a strong response from the 48-year-old rector of the Church of the Advent, William Harman van Allen. Dr. van Allen, as he was known, had a reputation of being “always a strong and often brilliant preacher.” The Centennial History of this parish reports that he was “profoundly moved by the [war’s] outbreak…and during the period of the war he delivered what were perhaps the finest and most forceful of all his sermons….In the pulpit, in his weekly Message to the congregation, by letters in the press, he maintained his championship of the cause of the Allies, even in the face of threats of personal violence.”
Dr. Van Allen guided the parish through the war’s turbulent and challenging years, priest and people bringing the conflict and heartache of the world to the altar of God, and the promise of redemption to the turmoil of the world:
- After the sinking of the British ship Lusitania by a German torpedo, a Solemn Requiem was held. (If you were here for the All Souls requiem, you know what a powerful and moving service this is.) Lusitania was carrying almost 2,000 people — passengers, crew, stowaways. Nearly 1,200 were lost.
- In the early years of the war, when this country was striving to be neutral, one of the Advent’s assisting priests, the Rev. William Russell Scarritt, preached a sermon calling upon the United States to abandon neutrality and join the Allies against Germany. His sermon attracted widespread notice; some even credit it with marking the turning point in American sentiment toward entering the war.
- As many as 50 “war orphans” (pupilles de la nation) in France were supported materially and morally by members of the congregation. Additionally, there was a service of intercession for “martyred Belgium” (1917), and a Red Cross chapter provided surgical dressings and other necessities.
The United States formally entered into the war on Good Friday 1917.
One hundred twenty-nine men from the Advent served in the Armed Forces during the war. “Dr. van Allen wrote regularly to [the] names on the Advent Honour Roll, and the six gold stars which appeared there were suitably revered….”
On the first Sunday after the armistice was signed (November 17, 1918), the Advent’s weekly bulletin was printed in red, and instead of the day’s designation according to the ecclesiastical calendar, that Sunday was listed as “The Sunday After the Great War.” A Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving for Victory was celebrated; the Hallelujah Chorus was sung as an anthem and The Star-Spangled Banner was the sermon hymn.
But many of the most ecstatic celebrations were followed something far more sombre. Perhaps the most potent and poignant example is that of a British baby who was born at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and in honor of that great day was christened Pax — peace. At the age of twenty-one, he would be killed in the next war.
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Why is all this important? After all, World War I is well behind us, and without a doubt we have our own troubles and pressing needs. I don’t need to describe or identify contemporary parallels; I am certain you know what they are. They are powerful: they threaten to overwhelm us and overtake our quest to draw each day closer to God, to follow Jesus in loving and serving God and our neighbor. But like those who have gone before us in this holy place, we are called to “pray for peace against all odds and act with hope when there is little light to be seen.” Through faith, we can, like the widow, offer all we have — our whole living — to the God who created us, who loves us, and who has promised to redeem us. And one hundred years hence, when the people sitting in these pews, standing at this altar and in the pulpit, look to us for an example of how to remain faithful to God and to each other in times of strife and conflict, may they not be disappointed.
- “four years’ killing and massacre…” Edwin L. James, quoted in “Annals of History: The Eleventh Hour” by Adam Hochschild in The New Yorker, November 5, 2018.
- “This war is, we may hope, destined…” H. Hensley Henson , 27 September 1914, Norwich Cathedral. Wartime Sermons: 21 Sermons delivered 19 September 1914—3 October 1915. London: Macmillan and Co., 1915.
- The Parish of the Advent in the City of Boston: A History of One Hundred Years, 1844-1944. Privately printed, 1944.
- A History of the Church of the Advent. Betty Hughes Morris. Privately printed, 1995.
- William Harman Van Allen (1870-1931), rector, Church of the Advent from Advent Sunday 1902 to March 1929.
- “His sermon attracted widespread notice…” William Russell Scarritt (1846-1931). National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol 23, 1933. p 389.
- “pray for peace against all odds” Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. Remembrance 100. https://www.remembrance100.co.uk/reconciliation/