RIP Marge Cooper – Remembrance Sunday

Marge Cooper - RIP

This afternoon Polly’s mother died in her bed.  A week before we had a huge alarm but she survived and spoke with all the children and some grandchildren over the last week.  THAT is a HUGE blessing.  Marge was an incredible Christian woman.  Fun, committed, fiercely independent, loving and I will miss her hugely.  Polly, Jon and Peter even more.  Katherine took the picture on the right.

The funeral will be later this week and Polly and I fly up tomorrow night.  We will stay a week.

This morning at the Cathedral in Lima I preached on Remembrance Sunday.  In many ways it was an apt day for Marge to pass on.  Joe, who died in 1974 was in the navy.  I am attaching my sermon FWIW.  Please pray for the family and traveling mercies as we reunite in Cleveland, Ohio this week.

Remembrance Sunday – November 14, 2010

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Lima, Peru.

Canon Ian Montgomery

I am the son of a paratrooper, a red beret.  When I was born in 1944 my father was “missing presumed dead.”  News of his being alive was received on Dec 12.  He was wounded (he lost an arm) and a guest of Hitler.  My late mother, who was MI5, had been widowed in 1939, my maternal grandmother in 1917.  I was born into a family deeply marked by war, by death and by the ideals of service and duty.

My first memories are of bomb wrecked England and Germany.  We were part of the occupation of Germany from 1945-49.  I still have vivid but fragmentary memories of Hitler’s destroyed Bavarian residence.  As late as 1965 I visited East Berlin and saw the same types of ruins and devastation.  War is horrible – war destroys.  Yet in the midst of war we remember those who went to fight and die.  They went, not as a superior warrior caste.  They were ordinary people like you and me who sought to serve and be faithful; to defend their loved ones, their country, freedom as they understood it.  They fought in terrible places.  Many survived and many did not.  My mother used to tell me “we fought and sacrificed so that you would not be a slave to Herr Hitler.”  War was and should be only a tragic necessity – a last resort – to preserve peace and justice.

I share this personal background because then you may be able to understand why I believe it is so important today to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, for me.  I come out of the WWII community, where some of my friend’s parents bore the tattoos on their forearms that marked them a survivors of the concentration camps – Jewish survivors of the abomination called now the Holocaust.   It also may explain why I am a Christian and a padre.  I was brought up in this context to understand concepts of service, duty, faithfulness and obedience.  As a Christian I serve Christ who embodies obedience, service and selfless love.

As a schoolboy I sat in chapel next to the Memorial board.  At the end of the roll call was the text John 15:13.   Greater love hath no man than this, that he give his life for his friends.

These questions are always present: –

  • How shall I live?
  • Do I live for myself or for others?
  • What do I seek to achieve?
  • Do I believe in an ultimate good?
  • Will I pay the ultimate sacrifice, if need be, for the sake of others?
  • Do I live in hope or despair?

Today we remember those who answered these questions with their lives.  I want to paraphrase/mutilate the author Susan Howatch’s description of “Stainless steel Saints.” These whom we remember were not heroes who effortlessly bear intolerable burdens but ordinary people whose real heroism lies in doing the best they can in the most difficult of times.

Many years ago, as part of my vocational discernment, I looked very hard at being an Army chaplain, a Padre.  I was especially struck by the testimony of a Sandhurst trained Army officer.  He stated up front that he could serve as an officer in Her Majesty’s Royal Army unless he was a committed Christian.  His faith sustained him daily as a soldier.

WHY?            He served, not as a warrior, but as a dedicated servant.  He was serving Queen and country.  He was serving us, serving me, in order that we might be protected and be free.  His convictions were born out of what we call the Great Commandment.  It is found in Mark 12:29-31.  I am quoting from the BCP 1662.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord;
and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.
This is the first commandment.

And the second is like, namely this:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
There is none other commandment greater than these.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The word that we so easily use – LOVE – is a word full of meaning when used by Jesus.  It means the utterly selfless love that seeks only, and will sacrifice all, for the sake of the beloved.

We live in a world that celebrates success over service and self over others.  We follow a form of social Darwinism that regards self-sacrifice as weakness and death as a kind of failure.  Those we remember today served in war and paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Not all were Christians, though they united to confront a common enemy.

I speak as a Christian in a Christian Church.  As Christians we follow a different “drummer.”  We exalt service.  What the world calls weakness we believe to be strength as God strengthens us.  Christians call themselves servants, bondservants, even slaves of Christ.  We do it for LOVE –

God willing with God’s understanding of that word.

St Paul grounded this kind of LOVE when he speaks of the marriage.  He says “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.” (Eph. 5:25)

Those we remember loved us, served us and died for us.  They were ordinary people who gave themselves to save us, keep us free, in my mother’s words about WWII, to save us from slavery.  God called out some extraordinary leaders and we thank God for them.  Most of us would simply have been those led, as were my parents, grandparents and their generation.  Since then wars have not ended.  Many more have died.  Sadly many more will die, as the world seems not to change much.  Perhaps the big wars are over – I hope so, but am not holding my breath – however small wars proliferate.  The war on terror is worldwide.  Some fear a return to dark ages of religious wars, intolerance and incivility.  Many in the West seem willing to parlay their comfort for their freedoms.

Jesus speaks to this.  In our passage today from St. Luke’s Gospel we hear these words:  (also repeated in Mark and Luke’s Gospels)

When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. (Luke 21:9-11)

Jesus is putting all things in perspective.  The grand buildings of which their civilization was so proud would fall.   Christians – his audience would be persecuted and betrayed.  Eventually an end will come.  After the END there will be a new beginning that we call NEW CREATION.  The passage ends with these words:

By standing firm you will gain life.

Those we remember stood firm.  They have left us a legacy of both freedom and sacrifice.  We must never forget them and what they died for.  In my first parish in London there was a memorial rood screen.  On the screen were carved the words of Revelation 22:1:

The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

The image is of fallen leaves.  In autumn the leaves fall off and the trees look barren.  In the spring comes new life.  This is their gift.  Will we use it well?

As Christians we have what we call HOPE.  This is not simply a heavenly home in the bye and bye.  It is a hope born of the knowledge that Christ has died to save us from our sin and granted to us forgiveness.

By Christ’s sacrifice and death we are granted forgiveness and a new beginning.

By Christ’s resurrection we are given the sure and certain hope of eternal life.

Christ was obedient unto death, death on a Cross and we are bidden to follow him, confident in the power of God to bring us through death to life – life in all its fullness.

Christ wants to give us his Holy Spirit so that we may be changed from the inside out and given the strength of His living within us to be different and to live no longer for ourselves but for God and our neighbor.

Is this your hope?

Today we remember those who have died.  We give thanks for their sacrifice.

We will never forget them.

They have given us a legacy.

Today God calls us to embrace lives of self-sacrifice and self-giving.  May God give us that strength and will to make a difference.

May God help us to stand together.

The battle continues but the victory is Gods.  Stand firm – make a difference – love God – love your neighbor.

Thus, we will honor their legacy.  To do otherwise is to make their sacrifice, their deaths, meaningless.




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2 responses to “RIP Marge Cooper – Remembrance Sunday

  1. June

    While we only have just met you have opened up your family to us and we have celebrated with you now marriage and death. My prayers as you travel and may the celebration of Marge’s life be filled with peace as you walk together in the experience of joy of her life and sorrow of your loss mingled together. Hugs to your dear Polly.

  2. jesseosmun

    My condolences to Polly on the loss. I really enjoyed reading your remarks on Remembrance Sunday.

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