Is There A Good Day To Die?

These are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, August 9th, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 18: 9 – 15, 31 – 33, Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2, and John 6: 365, 41 – 51.

Harry Patch died two weeks ago; he was buried on August 6th. Now, unless you are like me and you listen to the BBC, you probably don’t know who Harry Patch was. He certainly wasn’t important but then again, his death does have some significance. He was the last surviving British veteran of World War I. If Wikipedia is correct, there are now five individuals still living that can be identified as World War I veterans.

What I found interesting about Harry Patch is that 1) he requested that “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” be sung at his funeral and 2) that his experience in the war left him with very bitter memories. I cannot say that he was a leading voice against war but when you read about his thoughts and his nightmares, you come away certain that he did not like war and all of the accompanying horrors that came with it. As he described in a documentary a couple of years ago, you can recreate the sounds and lights of a battle but you cannot recreate the fear.

The theme for the funeral will be “Peace and Reconciliation” and, in addition to the pallbearers who are soldiers from what was his regiment, the coffin is to be accompanied by two private soldiers from the armies of Belgium, France, and Germany. I do not know if this date was particularly picked for its significance or for scheduling purposes. I would like to think that it was picked for its significance because it marks the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. If there was ever a day that describes the horror of war and what war can do, it would have to be August 6th, with August 9th, a very close and horrible second.

The horror of war and its insensibility is reflected in the Old Testament reading for today (2 Samuel 18: 5 – 9, 31 – 33). In verses 31 – 33, David learns that his armies are victorious in battle against the rebel armies lead by his son Absalom. But he also learns that among the twenty thousand killed that day was his own son Absalom. Whether Absalom’s death was a tragedy of war or an accident should not be the issue. A son was killed during a war and any parent will grieve over the loss of a child, even though the two may be on opposite sides of the conflict.

Yet, amongst the remembrances and the memories, we still seem to think that war is the only solution. And because war is mentioned in the Old Testament, there are those who feel that war is justified in these times. And there are those, especially today, whose military service is limited or non-existent but yet find it patriotic and honorable to glorify the killing of another human being and who willingly would send another parent’s child to war.

And while it would appear that the troops that we are sending over to Afghanistan may be more of the community helping/building variety, we are still fighting a war that perhaps should not have been fought and was fought for all of the wrong reasons. And I am intrigued by the notion that we are not only fighting a military war or a war against terrorism before terrorism strikes our shores again, we are also fighting a drug war.

As we fight to eradicate the poppy plants in Afghanistan, we take away the main source of income for many of the farmers in that area and force them to join the insurgency to support their families. I am not saying that we should let the farmers grow poppy plants that will be transformed into opium and heroin, just as we shouldn’t let farmers grow coca plants in Bolivia that will be transformed into cocaine. But if we do not provide alternatives that provide an income equal to or greater than these farmers received for what turns into drugs, we are not going to win that war.

Conflict should not be our means to resolving problems. Paul speaks to the issue of what should and should not be said between two parts who disagree (Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2). Should we not also be doing those things that prevent conflict from arising? Paul speaks of telling the truth to resolve a conflict but it is very difficult for one party to hear the truth if the other party speaks with a voice of arrogance or superiority; it is very difficult to speak of the truth when one part of humanity is starving and seeking aid while the other part has plenty but will not share.

The fact of the matter is that those who have little or nothing will listen to those who speak in patriotic terms and speak of the glory that once was theirs or could be theirs, if they will but take up arms and fight. No matter what our response once was, our response today must be different, radically different.

In the Gospel reading for today (John 6: 35, 41 – 51), some complained because Jesus spoke of coming from heaven. Their response was that He could not have come from heaven because they knew His parents. If our world is locked into old ways of thinking, then we will never find answers outside conflict. But if we are willing to see beyond the present, to have a vision for the future and we are willing to work for the future, it may be possible for the words of Isaiah to turn our swords into plows, our spears into pruning hooks and work with other nations to build this world, not destroy it.

Jesus offered the bread of life to those who would partake of it. He did not condemn those who refused the bread. But we who have heard His words and have accepted them now have the responsibility to bring bread to the world; for a hungry person will not listen if the growling of their stomach is louder than the words of the preacher.

Harry Patch was buried on a day when over 80,000 people died in the first military application of a nuclear weapon. His thoughts about war as well as the death of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should remind us that there never is a good day to die.

Jesus offers for all the chance to have eternal life but it means that we must work to see that no one has to die unnecessarily.


Cross-posted to RedBlueChristian


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