We Live, We Love: Reconciled
Remembrance Day 2018
To put today’s reading from Genesis into the broader context, earlier in Genesis the stories tell us that Joseph was the favourite son of Jacob. His brothers hated him, they kidnapped him and planned to murder him, but then ended up throwing him into an empty well and selling him into slavery, which was essentially a death sentence. They returned home, telling Jacob that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.
Fast forward 20 years and a lot of life lived, and there is a famine in the land. In Egypt they have a lot of grain stored up due to a dream that Joseph interprets for Pharaoh, which then advises Pharaoh to store up the harvest in the abundant years, which will then feed the land during the famine. So Joseph’s brothers head to Egypt to get some of this grain. Unbeknownst to them, it is Joseph that they meet. This could be Joseph’s perfect opportunity for revenge on his brothers… or is it going to be a story of reconciliation?
Well – the reading for today is the reconciliation portion of the story. But the reality is, there’s a whole lot in between, and probably afterward as well which included some manipulation on Joseph’s part, some revenge-type actions that got his brothers into trouble, but all of that eventually led to this part of the story where Joseph reconciles with his brothers.
Reconciliation is messy business. There is a lot to the story that we don’t know. But Joseph says in this story to his brothers that out of the mess that they created, God has made something good.
This week I heard a story about Sam Sharpe, who was a Lt Col in the First World War. He was a lawyer and a Member of Parliament from Uxbridge, Ontario. He returned from war in 1918 and within a few days, he took his own life.
I also heard a story about Private Thomas Welch, who served in Afghanistan. When he returned from Afghanistan in 2004, he ended his life.
A lot has been learned about Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the 100 years since Sam Sharpe took his life. PTSD is a mental illness that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. PTSD was not named as such and defined with diagnostic criteria until the 1980s, but was known for decades before that. Even when Sam Sharpe returned from war in 1918, he was hospitalized for what was called “nervous shock.”
86 years separate the suicides of these two men, Sam Sharpe and Private Thomas Welch, who served Canada in the war, but today they will both be remembered. There is a plaque being unveiled today in Ottawa to commemorate Sam Sharpe, which will be inscribed with the words “Not all wounds are visible.”
Private Welch’s mother, Anita Cenerini, was presented with the Silver Cross medal, which is presented to mothers and other family members who have lost a soldier due to military work. Each year in Canada one of these mothers is named as the Silver Cross Mother, a role that was created in 1936 and is a year-long national role. Private Welch’s mother was named as this year’s Silver Cross Mother. This year is the first time that a mother who lost her child to suicide as a result of his deployment will fill this role. Anita will lay the wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa today on behalf of all mothers of fallen soldiers.
Both of these events, the unveiling of the plaque to Sam Sharpe and the naming of Thomas Welch’s mother as this year’s Silver Cross Mother, are an important recognition that demonstrates how the ultimate sacrifice is not always attributable to physical wounds, but invisible ones as well.
PTSD is just one of the lasting impacts of war that makes reconciliation messy.
Many families feel the lasting impact of war either from their family members who have come back forever changed, who were perhaps having difficulty adjusting to their pre-war life again, or missing and trying to replicate the comradery they had found, or who were trying to shut the memories away into a tidy box that would remain locked up tight. Other families are impacted by having lost a family member in war.
My 19-year-old nephew joined the Canadian Armed Forces in March of this year. He has been through basic training and is now doing more training in Ontario. He says that he joined because he felt like it was something he needed to do sometime in his life, and felt called to serve his country. I don’t understand why he felt this need, but I do understand the need to follow what you are being called to do.
I had a hard time within myself accepting and being happy for my nephew when he got the call that his training was beginning, but the more I thought about it, I knew that it was my fear of him getting hurt and my own beliefs about war not being the solution, that I found myself stumbling over. Once I was able to set that aside, I could focus on my nephew. I am proud of him for having the courage to follow his dream. I am proud of the determined, motivated and committed young man that he is.
Even if we don’t personally have a family member in our memory who has fought in a war, all of our lives have been impacted by those who have served our country and those who have sacrificed their lives for our country. We would not have the freedoms and the peace that we have without the sacrifices made by so many men and women in the past. For many men and women it was not what they had planned for their lives, but it was what they felt they were required to do at the time. They were serving their country and risking their lives because of power struggles far beyond their control, created by flawed humans. We must always honour their sacrifice and not forget because in our remembering we also then remember and see the importance of working for reconciliation and for peace. In honouring the sacrifice we also are committing to learning from the past so that we don’t make the same mistakes in the future.
Today marks the 100th year since the end of the First World War. The end of the war did not mean an end to the need for reconciliation – the work of reconciliation is ongoing.
Reconciliation happens between nations divided, coming to some resolution over time.
Reconciliation happens when rebuilding happens after destruction of war
Reconciliation happens when work is done toward a non-violent solution in place of war.
Reconciliation happens when families are supported in welcoming their wounded and broken family members home.
The road to reconciliation can be a long and complicated one.
Reconciliation for Lt Col Sam Sharpe took 100 years, when his death was finally honoured for the sacrifice that it was.
The road to reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers was complicated. Joseph was very clear that it was his brothers who sold Joseph into slavery but that it was God who was responsible for what led to their reconciliation.
God is not the one to cause the war or the suffering, that is our human systems that have led to the wars, but God is with us in the suffering that happens as a result, and God is with us in the process of reconciliation. God is there in the compassion extended to those in need. God is with the grieving families as they remember.
As we ponder reconciliation in difficult relationships and situations – think of the times in your life when you have experienced reconciliation, when you have felt held in the unconditional love of God. Now try to imagine that love extended to the places and relationships in need of reconciliation.
As Christians, our experience as people of the resurrection is that death does not have the final word. So these acts of reconciliation that come out of the death and destruction of war, we see as signs of new life, of resurrection. In the remembering and honouring of the sacrifices made so that we might know peace, we experience resurrection. We experience new life in the commitments made that we will learn from the mistakes of the past and follow a different road in the future, a non-violent path shown to us by Jesus.
We will remember.