Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remembrance Day - and what churches are for

I preached on Sunday - Remembrance Sunday - but the words don't get any easier, and I didn't script what I said. So no links for a sermon.

Today, Tuesday 11th November, is of course the actual date of Remembrance Day - and the 90th anniversary of the ending of the First World War. But in the Church's Calendar, we remember also that it's the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. Perhaps we don't make enough of the conjunction of this feast day and our remembrance of the victoms of war. Famously St. Martin was first a soldier of the Roman army before his Christian faith led him to a different vocation. The Church of England's Collect for the Day reminds us of this:

God all powerful,
who called Martin from the armies of this world
to be a faithful soldier of Christ:
give us grace to follow him
in his love and compassion for the needy,
and enable your Church to claim for all people
their inheritance as children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Though we could perhaps do with some reminder of his growth in holiness, his life as a hermit and monk before his call to be a bishop, and the magnetism with which he drew people to join him in his way of life and as a follower of Christ...

I first visited the Basilica of St. Martin in Tours over 20 years ago, and I hadn't remembered it as much more than a rather dark and dim place. But I went back last year (and again this year!), and the place seems transformed from what I'd remembered. The huge church is itself a wonderful place of prayer with a Community of Benedictine Sisters to assist in welcoming visitors. Clear signage and displays are a help - but most it's the fact that you can't miss it as a place of prayer. When I visited this year, there was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the main church. And the shrine below is a place of stillness and deep prayer.

And what else are churches for? Actually Ruth Gledhill, in the Sunday Times and on her blog, has carried a story about Sir Anthony Caro's work in creating Le Choeur de Lumière (Chapel of Light) in the Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg, near Dunkirk, France. It's worth taking a look at the pictures of what he has achieved. His work is part of the restoration of a church which was destroyed in the Second World War, when a British pilot, realising that he was going down, took the decision that to avoid civilian casualties in a built-up area he should crash his plane into the roof of the church and so to avoid the surrounding houses. So there's a story of heroism and a continuing memorial to his deed, to the bravery of so many and to the sanctity of life.

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