8 November 1998
Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14
2 Thess 2:16-3:5
Luke 20: 27-38
The Two Cenotaphs
In a few minutes time the crowds who have gathered near the Cenotaph in Whitehall will fall silent for two minutes as they remember those who died fighting for their Country in the two World Wars earlier this century.
The Last Post will be sounded and fresh wreaths of red poppies will be laid alongside that striking monument, and once again the time-honoured rituals of Remembrance Sunday will have been fulfilled.
The Cenotaph itself repays some study and thought. The word means literally "The Empty Tomb". It was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens in 1920 and immediately became the focal point for the nation to express its grief and gratitude for what those who died in the wars did for them.
Curiously, although the Cenotaph appears to the naked eye to have both vertical and horizontal lines in its construction, in fact it has neither.
The vertical lines which appear to go straight upwards towards the sky in fact lean slightly towards each other, so that if you followed them upwards you would find that they all meet at a point about a thousand feet above the ground. If these lines could speak we might hear them saying to us "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but it's somewhere up in the sky"
The supposedly horizontal lines which seem to run parallel with the ground are in fact slightly curved and they are all parts of a number of enormous circles whose centre is a single point some nine hundred feet beneath the monument. If they could speak they might be saying "My heart lies deeply buried; its centre is in the world beneath."
Now those two statements "My heart lies deeply buried; its centre is in the world beneath." and "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but it's somewhere up in the sky" just about summarize the total of what modern secular man believes as he looks as the Cenotaph or his local war memorial on Remembrance Sunday every year.
But the words "Empty Tomb" suggests something totally different to Christians like ourselves as we meet together not just on one Sunday in the year, but every Sunday. For the words "Empty tomb" suggest to us not Lutyen's Cenotaph in Whitehall and the hundreds of other war memorials around the country; the words in our ears set our minds thinking about a quite different Empty Tomb - the one in Jerusalem, several thousand miles from here. Moreover we find ourselves thinking, not so much about the empty tomb itself but about the Person who left it empty in the first place when he rose from the dead on the First Easter Day "very early in the morning" our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Christians have met together on the first day of every week, that is the day we call Sunday, ever since the first Easter, to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to meet him in the Breaking of Bread or the Holy Communion.
Surely there couldn't be a greater contrast between the respective messages of the two Cenotaphs or empty tombs - the one in Jerusalem and the one in Whitehall.
The Whitehall Cenotaph, you remember, says to us "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but it's somewhere up in the sky". The empty tomb in Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre says to us "We'll meet him again, right here in Lewisham this very morning, and Sunday by Sunday as often as we "eat this bread and drink this cup we show forth the Lord's atoning death till he comes again in glory. In this Holy communion we take part in his Sacrifice in the certain knowledge that, so far from that sacrifice having been made in vain as the death of so many brave men in wartime sometimes seems to us, his death in fact is the one, true, pure immortal sacrifice of the Lamb of God, without spot or blemish, which takes away the sins of the world.
Again, so far from saying "My heart is centred deep down in this world" as the Cenotaph in Whitehall seems to be telling us, the other Empty tomb reminds us that as followers of Christ we should have our hearts focused somewhere, or more accurately in someone quite different. "If we are risen with Christ in Baptism, through his death", St Paul tells the Colossians, "we should look for those things which are above not on the earth" Our hearts should be centred on Christ where he reigns, seated at the right hand of the Father, looking forward to the time when we shall be perfectly united with him "being like him, because we shall see him as he is", as St John said.
The two Cenotaphs or Empty tombs have a common starting point. They both begin with one of the certain facts of life, the fact of death; but from their common beginning on this earth they immediately begin to diverge towards very different, and ultimately irreconcilable, conclusions.
What we call the "secular" mind always remains obstinately earthbound. It may indeed draw inspiration from the millions of those who fought and died in two World Wars and such an inspiration may inspire in the secular mind a determination to make sure that their sacrifice should not have been useless.
But the Christian mind, as it rises Sunday by Sunday to meet our risen Lord in the Mass is doing something very different from what the secular mind's doing. For it has an entirely different focal point on which to fix itself. There's no better summary of this than the words of the Sursum Corda which you and I will be singing together in a few minutes which run as follows
Lift up your hearts
We lift them up to the Lord
Let us eucharist [give thanks] to the Lord our God
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
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