Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day: How Should Christians Celebrate?

Many of you may be saying, "Armistice Day?  I thought it was Veteran's Day?"

Yes, here in America, that's what we're celebrating today.  But before it was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.  In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate.  Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some sober meditation.

However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come.  The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II.  World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.

Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace?  There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here.  Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time.  World War I offers us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.

Armistice Day is also a good day to offer prayers of thanks for the military people who have been willing to fight.  I want desperately to be a pacifist, but I will admit that sometimes tyrants must be dealt with forcefully.    My pessimistic side believes that violence is the only language that tyrants understand, but the 20th century has given us many examples of the peaceful overturning of despots, so I don't fully believe my pessimistic side.  Still, we often don't use the forces of non-violence in enough time, and so, force may be our only option (witness the example of Hitler).

A few years ago, I was at Mepkin Abbey on Armistice Day.  It also happened to be near All Saints Sunday, the first All Saints Day after Abbot Francis Kline had been cruelly taken early by leukemia, and the Sunday we were there was a memorial service for him. Part of one of the services was out in the monks' cemetery, and all the retreatents were invited out with the monks. I was struck by the way that the simple crosses reminded me of the French World War I cemeteries:

I took the above picture from the visitor side of the grounds, but it gives you a sense of the burial area. I turned all these images in my head and wrote a poem, "Armistice Day at the Abbey." It ends this way, by pondering the graves of monks and the role of monks:

Their graves, as unadorned as their robes,
stretch out in rows of white crosses, reminiscent
of a distant French field. We might ponder
the futility of belief in a new covenant,
when all around us old enemies clash,
or we might show up for prayer, light
a candle, and simply submit.

Here's a prayer I wrote for this Armistice Day:

God of Peace, on this Armistice Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers.  On this day, we pray for all who are damaged by wars big and small.  We offer a prayer of thanks for our veterans, and we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do.  We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

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