Free to Serve
The death of soldiers to preserve freedom has the effect of giving us physical freedom to live in the spiritual freedom
On November 7 of the year that has just passed, the church I serve as minister experienced something for the first time in its sixty years as a congregation. It hosted a "Remembrance Day Worship Service." This was not just a service where special attention was paid to the many that died in the wars of the past century. Rather, we were asked by the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion to host the annual Remembrance Day worship service. In such a service, the Legion sends a small "Flag Party." They march in before the service starts with their flags. These flags are then placed at the front. This is followed by the singing of "O Canada," the playing of the "Last Post," followed by a minute of silence in memory of those who died, which in turn is followed by the playing of the "Reveille." After the reading of the Act of Remembrance, the regular worship service takes place. After the worship service, the Legion Flag Party retrieves the flags. There is the singing of "God Save the Queen," and the Flag Party marches out. Altogether some twenty-five Legion members joined in our worship on that day. It is a striking feature that the local branch of the Legion still sought to remember those who died in past wars in a worship service.
While such a service undoubtedly is outside the regular experiences of a Reformed worship service, there was little hesitation when the request was received to host this service. After all, though there is evidence of an increasing ethnic mix in the Canadian Reformed churches, and we can come across sixth generation Canadians of Dutch descent (at least in Orangeville), that does not take away the fact that the Canadian Reformed Churches are rooted in the Lord's church gathering work in The Netherlands. Further, the existence as a church in Canada is due in part to efforts of the Canadian soldiers who fought in the Second World War. By the providence of God, Canadian soldiers played a role in liberating The Netherlands. This contributed to making Canada a country of choice for many post war immigrants from The Netherlands.
To do justice to remembering those who died, while at the same time doing justice to the character of a worship service where everything should point to God, the sermon had as theme the words of our Lord found in John 15:13,
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
These words can be found on various cenotaphs and war memorials. It is a testimony to those who gave their lives so that others might live. Or, to use words found on the local Orangeville cenotaph, "who gave their lives that freedom might prevail."
When it comes to the many who died in wars, it is very well possible that many did not consciously go with the mindset of giving their lives out of love for others. There may even have been a sense of adventure. In the end, however, their death in war contributed toward the freedom we may enjoy today.
While the words as spoken by our Lord seem a fitting way to refer to those who died in wars, they were of course meant to draw attention to himself. When he spoke those words, his arrest and death by crucifixion was just over the horizon. The disciples did not know that yet, but our Lord was fully aware of what was waiting for him. He had told his disciples at least three times of his arrest and death. When he spoke those words, the Lord was engaged in the battle against the great enemy, the devil, in order to secure freedom for us from sin and the power of the devil.
While it is easy to see why these words of our Lord were chosen for various cenotaphs and war memorials, we see the unique application in the life of our Lord. He died not that freedom might prevail or that we might live in a free country but he died to obtain freedom and eternal life. The death of soldiers secured physical freedom. The death of our Lord has given us spiritual freedom. The death of soldiers to preserve freedom has the effect of giving us physical freedom to live in this spiritual freedom.
This is worth highlighting as we stand on the threshold of another year. By the providence of God we live in a free country. We so often take that for granted. Perhaps we would cherish that freedom a little more if we would take note of the struggles of Christians in Muslim countries or in China. The freedom we enjoy today came at a price. Even more, our spiritual freedom came at a price, the blood of God's own Son. This freedom is a precious resource. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, wrote, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "'love your neighbour as yourself.' If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed" (Gal 5:13-15). In a similar tone, Peter wrote,
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king.1 Pet 2:16, 17
The words of Paul and Peter touch on two aspects of our freedom in Christ. The first is that we should not indulge in the ways of the sinful nature. It is a sad reality that the freedom we have as a result of wars against oppressors has not led to a godlier but a very ungodly society. Freedom is used to indulge the sinful nature. Our free but ungodly society presents us with many temptations to indulge the sinful nature.
The second aspect of our freedom is expressed in Paul's call to "serve one another in love" and Peter's call to "love the brotherhood of believers." There is the danger that we use the freedom to fight each other rather than serve each other. It can show up, for example, in the way various issues in church life are discussed with a snarl rather than a smile. The danger is there that we are too busy biting each other rather than listening to each other in love.
The year of our Lord 2011 lies open before us, who have been freed by the blood of Christ. We may continue to live in a free country. Let us use this double freedom thankfully to serve our gracious God and our neighbour, for the proper use of our freedom is to serve one another in love.