Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Remembrance: By Means of the Poppy and the Cross’
© November 8, 2015 by Steve Mickelson
Based On a Message Shared at BLCF on November 11, 2012
Call to Worship: Responsive Reading #671: God’s Love and Ours (1 John 4); Prayer
Opening Hymn #99: Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners; Choruses
Tithing and Prayer; Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers
Today’s Scriptures: John 15:10-13, John 16:23-33, Ephesians 2:13-18
Let us pray…
The lesson for this Sunday is a study of two symbols of remembrance of sacrifice on our behalf: the poppy and the cross.
I stand before you with one of these symbols, the poppy, pinned above my heart, while illuminated behind me is the other, which is the cross.
This Wednesday, we will have an opportunity to observe, with the aid of the poppy, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, signifying the anniversary of the Armistice that was signed in 1918 to end World War I, ironically called “the war to end all wars”.
Today, the date is called Remembrance Day in Canada and Britain and Veterans Day in the United States. For us, Remembrance Day is a day where we remember all who died not only in this war, but in all other conflicts, to both preserve and protect our democratic freedom and way of life in Canada.
We, in the Christian Church, also have a symbol no less important. It’s the Cross of Jesus. One of His great sayings is:
‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’- John 15:13 (ESV).
And that is what Christ did for us.
Two great symbols of sacrifice are: the Poppy and the Cross.
What is so special about a poppy on Remembrance Day? Why not use a pansy? Scarlet poppies grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe. The destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th Century, transformed bare land into fields of blood red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers.
In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as the First World War raged through Europe’s heart.
The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realized by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in the First World War and later conflicts. Here is McCrae’s words:
In Flanders Fields – John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
When fighting ceased in 1918 the mud of the battlefields was allowed to rest. Nature began to restore the landscape. Before long, the wild flowers grew and bloomed, including the poppy. The colour of red reminds people of bloodshed and the sacrifice by millions of brave soldiers of their lives. And so the poppy became the symbol of sacrifice.
It is a known fact that people are creatures with the capacity to forget personal pain and suffering. Otherwise, women for example would be less likely to have more than one child, after having experienced the labour of the first and all of us would be unable to cope with the loss of loved ones. With the passage of time, the memory of the harsh reality of death diminishes and fades with each successive generation, becoming little more than the image of faded photographs or hollow words to a nearly forgotten poem.
That is why it is important to take a minute of silence to reflect and pray for those men and women who sacrificed their lives both in a distant place and time, and in times current so that we may enjoy a relatively free and safe life today in Canada. We read the poem ’In Flanders Fields’, where see that even in the deadly field of battle, God transforms the trenches of death with a tapestry of red flowers and the song of meadow larks, providing the promise of hope reminiscent of that given by His rainbow and dove with the olive branch after the great flood.
On this Remembrance Day, let us also remember the fallen innocents in past conflicts as well: the civilians who were killed in wars and conflicts, as well as the persecuted victims of purges and holocausts. And, we should remember the families of the fallen, for the pain of loss of a loved one. Finally, we honour those who returned from battle and war, with the memory of death and destruction etched in their memories.
Some of you may still remember a member of our congregation, our friend Leo, a kindly brother in Christ, who sought to share the love of Christ with his brothers and sisters. I remember, when I had applied to work as an operator at the TTC, Leo commented to me, that after the World War II, he was hired by the TTC and trained to drive at street car. He remarked that as a result of the war, the stress of driving was too great for him, and he left the TTC to work as a carrier with Canada Post.
At Leo’s funeral, the chapel was almost evenly divided between sad, grieving uniformed postal carriers, members of the military and police officers on one side of the chapel; with happy Christian believers on the other. While the former mourned the death of a friend, the latter celebrated the fact that another Christian has gone home to be with Jesus at the Lord’s Resurrection.
While Leo did not give his life in war for his country, he did give his life as a living sacrifice unto his Lord. We see that the poppy represents the mourning for those who sacrificed themselves in battles, police actions and conflicts, which continue to this day. By contrast, Jesus gave his life as the final sacrifice for our judgment for sin, which we celebrate and observe continuously, by means prayer, song, Scripture and with the regular observance of Communion.
The poppy reminds us of the sacrificed lives in battles over the years past, present and future. By contrast, the cross reminds us the Lord’s single act of sacrifice and love for all generations, past, present and future, John 15:10-13 (ESV):
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
The cross symbolizes not only how Jesus sanctifies us from sin, it is a symbol of the God’s New Covenant of eternal life, and is an emblem of His love for us. We are implored to take heart and find joy in the Lord’s gift to us, which are the rewards for our faith, John 16:23-33 (ESV):
23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
I Have Overcome the World
25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.[a] 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Footnotes: a. John 16:27 Some manuscripts from the Father
In addition to the cross, we are instructed by the scriptures to remember the sacrifice of Jesus through the act of communion, until Jesus returns. This points to the main difference between the soldier’s sacrifice to give us freedom as Canadians and Jesus’ sacrifice to give us freedom from sin, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection. It is our responsibility as members of Canadian society to honour the soldier’s sacrifice for a peace from war that is temporary, as long sin exists, we will continue to have war. As believers in the resurrected Christ, our trust and faith in our Savior’s sacrifice which does not end sin, but the consequences of sin: judgment and death, Ephesians 2:13-18 (ESV):
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #81: All Praise to Him Who Reigns Above
Benediction – (Hebrews 13:20-21):
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.