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In-person Sunday morning services are temporarily postponed. We hope for a return in February.

Looking Behind the Curtain: The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Remembrance Sunday)

A friend of mine, a retired teacher, whom I met during my theological studies, shared the following story this week (which I share with her permission):

There was a Little Old Lady at the parish in which I grew up. 364 days a year, she was a housewife and secretary to her husband’s business. But not on Remembrance Sunday. She would wear a black suit, complete with hat and gloves (long after hats were no longer considered fashionable). The storm(s) she created if the service was not absolutely perfect, if the bugler was slightly off, if the hymns were not absolutely suitable were worthy of historical record. AND she wore a literal chest-full of medals, none of which she would identify. The veteran fathers I knew wouldn’t/couldn’t identify them either, except to say something non-committal like ‘I’m not sure, but I think they’re rare.’

In 1996, upon the expiration of the Canadian War Secrets Act, her husband (not her) let it be known that she had been taught Japanese when WWII began and had been a team leader at the Canadian equivalent of Bletchley Park working in the Japanese Section, that she decoded some papers that hastened the end of the war. She took her vow of silence. Even her husband did not know what she had done until 1996, and they had gotten married during the war. Her medals were presented to her by the Canadian, British, and American governments.

To the day she died, she said very little about her war service. If you met her, you’d have thought she was ‘just a quiet mouse of a housewife’.

My friend shared this, not just because it’s a remarkable story, but as part of a series of memories that brought about some surprise about events within or just below the surface of the wars, or their sometimes hidden costs and scars. She wanted to help us get a peek ‘behind the curtain.’ And there we find deep experiences of heroism, and deep experiences of grief and tragedy. And all of that playing out on the deep and painful reality of our collective brokenness. The 20th century, for all its progress, brought with it not a few genocides. It was, and still is, an apocalyptic age.

The readings today come from the apocalyptic genre that we find in a few parts of the Bible. To those of us raised on Terminator and Mad Max movies, we assume that “apocalypse” means ‘end of the world.’ But what it actually means, plainly, is an ‘unveiling’ or ‘revealing.’ Apocalyptic stories reveal deeper realities under the surface (or in the stars), or just behind the curtain. The birthpangs that we experience as a society are given a deeper meaning. Daniel describes a protector acting behind the scenes of the violence that people will experience. Jesus speaks frankly about conflict between nations, and about the impermanence of those things in which we invest our trust (in their case, the Jerusalem Temple). But, he says, there’s more behind the curtain, that’s still to come. These apocalyptic stories are often disturbing, but they’re not meant to be defeating. Even in the face of anguish, these stories remind communities of faith that God hasn’t left us completely abandoned. God is at work, revealing and preparing a future that is beyond our capacity to create. Our wars, and our peace, are transitory. And so we work, but also hope, and pray, for that peace that can only come from beyond ourselves; from behind the curtain.

This month we’ve been engaging with themes of remembrance, beginning on the first day of the month. On All Saints’ Day we remembered the great figures of Church history. And then All Souls’ Day, when we ensure that we include all people of good faith. Remembrance Day brought us closer to our present day, in thanksgiving, but also with honesty about our human suffering. We start to look ahead, in hopes for a future where, as some of us prayed this past Thursday, “the Angel Dove of Peace may fly freely and safely.”

Then next week we come to the last day in the Church’s year, Reign of Christ. Where, again, aware of our limitations and inability to save ourselves, we personify our hopes in Jesus, the one we call “Lord.” And then the Church year starts over — we’ll be back in Advent — but it’s really an extension of Reign of Christ’s themes: our recognition of the mess we’re in, and our hope in the one whose power is perfected in weakness, in vulnerability, in experiencing our life, and also our mortality. May we remember this day, and everyday, that God is faithful, and present to us, even in times of darkness and destruction. “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs,” Jesus says. And his later apostle and interpreter Paul will add “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly…. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter