Tag Archives: soldier

19 April, Good Friday. Stations of the Cross for Peter: XIII, Jesus’ Body is taken down for burial

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Peter remembers the Olive Garden on Maundy Thursday when he has sliced off Malchus’s ear, and the heavily guarded garden around the tomb the next night.

Scripture references: Malchus: John 18: 10-11; Luke 22: 47-53; Joseph of Arimathea: John 19: 38-42; Mary Magdalene: Luke 23: 55-56.

Joseph had enough influence to get hold of the body and bury it. He had to be quick though. If he had been found still moving it when the Passover feast started there there would have been even more trouble.

The guards were watching. They had taken over Joseph’s garden and even he could not send them away. Right down to that Malchus with his mended ear, they were ready to start on him if he put a foot wrong. They would have been glad to get their hands on a high-up like Joseph.

He had to hurry Mary Magdalene away without doing everything properly.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

Let us pray for all who live in fear, whose lives are a mess, who do not feel they have done things properly. May they feel God’s forgiveness and love.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

Image from Missionaries of Africa.

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16 April: Stations for Peter X: Jesus is crucified.

winchester crucifix

Peter stood a long way off, but he probably had little choice.

Scripture references: Peter’s boat: Matthew 13:1-3; Let the children come: Luke 18: 15-17; the Crucifixion: Luke 23:33-34.

Everyone always wanted to be near Jesus. We used to try to protect him, to keep the crowds away.

I remember when he sat in my boat, just to have room to breathe! 

I remember when we sent the children away. He used to get tired just like anybody else, but No, he said, let them come to me. And climb all over him, arms and legs hanging on everywhere.

Now, no-one can get near, soldiers with swords and spears hold us back while they hammer nails through him and hang him up on high.

No last minute rescue.

The whole world seemed dark.

Let us pray for everyone in prison, especially those held for no real crime at all; and for those separated from their families and loved ones, kept apart by bullying governments and authorities.

Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

Image from Winchester Cathedral by MMB.

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April 6: Before the Cross XXII: Greater love hath no man.

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This image has always troubled me, since the day I first found a copy in a second-hand picture frame. This window is at Hythe in Kent, remembering a nineteen year old officer of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, Robert Aubrey Hildyard, seen dying at the foot of the Cross, his right hand on Christ’s feet, the feet Mary anointed with precious oil. At the foot of the cross lies Robert’s helmet, and a scroll reading, ‘Greater love hath no man’. We can all complete Jesus’ words: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13).

soldier.crucifx.hythe.detailRobert looks peaceful, asleep, while once again we behold a risen Christ: alive, with good muscle tone; his wounds not bleeding. Robert’s rifle and bayonet and an artillery piece are behind the two figures; there is a hill of mud in the background and angels in attendance above.

Surely this comforted the parents of Robert Hildyard, and no doubt others who lost loved ones, but it makes me uneasy. It seems to associate Christ with the war. Yet no less a poet than Hopkins wrote of a soldier or sailor (a tar):

Yes. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less;
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.

Hopkins recognises that the men are no plaster saints, but if a man wears a brave uniform we – and he – hope, we and he want to believe him as bravehearted as he is smartly dressed. But no-one was smart at the Somme, where Robert died. Their heroism was different: men drowned in mud or were cut down by machine-gun fire before coming to close combat. Robert himself was killed when a shell hit where he and Godfrey James Wilding were sheltering.

Hopkins continues:

Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.

For love Christ leans forth to kiss Robert and cry … ‘So God-made-flesh does too!’ What did God-made-flesh do in the War? He did not conquer death and sin with violence.

I think of Jesus, asleep on the rugs in the sinking boat. A flimsy shelter, causing his friends to fear. Jesus sensed their fear, knew that death was close by, calmed the storm. But there was no dramatic rescue for Robert and Godfrey in this world, and no more that they could do. ‘It should be this’: not killing other men, but putting oneself in the firing line.


Why did Robert and Godfrey lay down their lives?

The gesture of touching Christ’s feet suggests that Robert’s parents wanted to associate his death with Christ’s, and saw it as freely given.

Here is another soldier’s take on the daily sacrifices of being a soldier in the Great War. For Joyce Kilmer the freely accepted, everyday deprivations were as a millionth part of Christ’s sufferings:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

We published his poem on the centenary of his death last July; click on the link. The post following that is Christina’s response to Kilmer’s poem: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?. Do read that as well.

May we unite our sufferings with the Lord’s, may we grow into the persons he wants us to be, and may we be aware of our own lack of importance and ‘let us render back again /This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.’

MMB

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March 16. Before the Cross III: the Centurion, 2.

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The second part of Rupert’s reflection on the Crucifixion.

The Centurion by Rupert Greville.

Luke’s Gospel records that it was on seeing the signs that followed Jesus’s death that the centurion declared him to be “a righteous man”. It seems likely to me that he might also have witnessed the conversation between the two thieves and Jesus, and that if he had heard it, he would not have been unmoved by Jesus’s extraordinary compassion.

We led him out beyond the city gate

Onto the hill, where women wept for grief,

And mockers jeered and spat with studied hate;

We nailed him there, with either side a thief.

 

Our dismal task, on raising up the three,

To watch them writhe and die in sickening pain;

But now a thief, bound fast against his tree,

Enrolled himself in this Messiah’s reign.

 

A merciless morning sun in that place of death

Had welded wounds to wood; scourged back with torn skin

Glued, then prised away each laboured breath;

Now all was dark. He turned his face to him.

 

He spoke as one who knew him, one who cared,

And promised paradise with him that very day;

In shameful death he blessed! I stood and stared,

Seized by the power of what I’d heard him say:

 

Words of life. But I Rome’s servant sworn –

A lifeless soul, unmoved by death or pain:

That cold indifference died, and hope was born

There on that hill and in this man we’d slain.

Rupert Greville is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

The print that illustrates yesterday’s post and today’s can be found in the public domain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

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March 15, Feast of Saint Longinus. Before the Cross II: The Centurion, 1.

 

Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses

Rembrandt  1653 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition names the centurion Longinus, supposing that it was he who drove the lance into Jesus’s side. A number of traditions grew up around him in the early church, among them that he was martyred. As a saint, he is now remembered by Roman Catholics on the 16th. October, though his original feast day was the 15th. March (still kept in the Extraordinary form). He appears in Luke and Mark’s gospels confessing by himself, and in Matthew, confessing together with the other guards. The spearman in John’s gospel is only identified as “one of the soldiers”; we cannot know if this was the centurion himself or one of the soldiers under his command. Nevertheless, responsibility for ensuring that all three crucifixion victims had died would have rested with him.

In this print, Rembrandt depicts the moment of Jesus’s death, after three hours of unnatural darkness. The eye is drawn towards Christ on the cross, but the crowded scene is one of contrasting human responses to revelation. Some run away, others stand in awe. Mary has fainted, overwhelmed by grief. Mounted Roman soldiers continue, unmoved, in their menace, but the centurion kneels at the foot of the cross to declare “Surely this was a righteous man”.

Though Luke doesn’t record that the centurion heard the exchange between Jesus and the two thieves, it seems likely that he would have made it his business to listen. We cannot know at what point during that day he recognised the uniqueness of Jesus among all the men he had executed, from the trial where Pilate declares him to be innocent, up to the time of his death. But I imagine that Jesus’s extraordinary compassion towards an anguished soul (while in the midst of his own suffering) compounds with all the other questions that Jesus had raised in the centurion’s mind that morning – and with this strange darkness – to persuade him, not only of the injustice in which he has played such an active role, but also of its massive cosmic significance.

The penitent thief (a Jew) and the confessing centurion (a gentile) both recognised the truth, and indeed the understatement, of the words on Pilate’s sign intended to mock Jesus: “King of the Jews”. The true King welcomed them, one at the point of physical death, and the other in a radically restored life, purpose and hope. The one, cursed and shamed by the world for crimes he acknowledged, yet received by Jesus; the other, an enforcer of Roman law and follower of the imperial cult, moved and shaken by his involvement in an act of barbaric injustice, now knowing that he was in the presence of the true “Son of God”. And so he also welcomes us, whatever our past, and whatever our blindness has been towards him. He welcomes us to participate in a kingdom on earth that has not grown out of human competition or military might. He welcomes us to the very presence of the living God.

Rupert Greville.

Rupert Greville is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

 

 

 

 

 

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24 December: Edward Thomas at the inn.

A change of voice, a change of pace. Edward Thomas is always worth listening to. This, like all his poetry, was written in the months before his death at the front in 1917. 

THE OWL

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.
Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry
Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.
And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.”

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15 November: Remembering a century on

 

Remembrance Sunday, 2018, 100 years since the Armistice brought an end to the fighting in the Great War. There was no question as to how I should mark the day, since my niece Jo was down in Folkestone to help create on the sand a portrait of Wilfred Owen, the soldier poet killed a few days before the war ended.

The big portrait was completed by the team in the early morning despite the rain that washed away part of the work; it was replaced in time for the public viewings.

Further along the beach people were invited to sketch silhouettes of dead soldiers in rows upon the sand. Hundreds did so; I imagine with some degree of solemnity. These images, and the portrait of Owen, were washed away by the tide.

But it’s never quite ‘Goodbye to all that’, is it?

As my mother, our poet SPB put it, ‘Bravo Danny Boyle for such a powerful forward looking impact involving so many who would not have taken part in services and parades.’ The crowds were great, but as I heard someone say to an acquaintance: ‘Everyone is taking it in turns up there (on the balcony where the best views were). And so it was. All seemed muted but glad to be there, part of the crowd, part of the people.

MMB

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11 November 1918

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Suddenly, as the watch-hands touched eleven, there came a second of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of  a light wind. It was the noise of men cheering from the Vosges to the sea.

After that peace descended on the long battle field. A new era had come and the old world had passed away.

John Buchan

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November 7: Sacrifice in War II.

 

 

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Saint Helen’s, Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire, MMB.

Neither war comics, nor 1950s films nor computer games could remotely be described as subtle: the enemy does not appear as a fellow human being. The Great War poet Wilfred Owen’s dawning realisation of the humanity of his visitant in ‘Strange Meeting’ illustrates the dehumanising of the other that allows industrial slaughter to proceed.  It is not clear whether his loathly opposite, the man he had recently killed was a German, or perhaps his own true self:

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.[1]

That ‘slaughter’ should be personified as the subject of a sentence shows how war de-personalises, de-humanises people. War, conflict and death are seen as a conjunction of irresistible, superhuman powers, sweeping away combatant and civilian alike, powers that were indeed personified by the ancients, like John’s four horsemen (Revelation 6), or in Shakespeare’s play:

… Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Atë by his side come hot from Hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war …  Julius Caesar III.i. 270-273.

While War and Death are personified, the enemy is depersonalised; he can then be sacrificed to Atë and Mammon and all false gods of War.

MMB.

[1]              Wilfred Owen, ‘Strange Meeting’ in ‘Poems’, Ed. Siegfried  Sassoon, 1920. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Poems, by Wilfred Owen, Produced by Alan R. Light, Gary M. Johnson, and David Widger, [EBook #1034] Release Date: August 10, 2008.

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6 November 2016: Sacrifice in War I.

 

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Fallen Willow, Chichester; NAIB

It puzzled my ten year old self why Dad would not allow war comics into the house, but Robert Fisk’s army officer father did likewise.

Fisk, a war correspondent, now sees the wisdom of this and wonders if the stereotypes evident in such comics have affected today’s military dictators and juntas.[1] Cartoons might seem too crude to influence attitudes to war or foreigners, but my scepticism was shaken listening to two mothers of teenage sons. The boys watch ‘all the old war films’ and play sniper computer games. One remarked to me in all seriousness that ‘everybody hates the Germans’; no shades of opinion for him.

The mothers are concerned that their sons want to join the army ‘to kill a few Afghans’, when, as one put it, ‘he should be aiming to fight to make the world a better place’. Her comments point what makes industrial war possible: the dehumanising of the enemy and the individual soldier’s risking his life. The latter could be described as self-sacrifice; the former identifies the dehumanised enemy as a sacrificial victim.

What sacrifices have been offered in modern industrial war and to what deities?

MMB.

[1]           Robert Fisk, ‘Battlefield Stereotypes that were Fed to Young Minds’ in The Independent, 28/8/2010

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