It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. (1)
I have recently been making some long journeys by car and have been listening again to some Dickens novels that I haven’t read since schooldays. One of those is A Tale of Two Cities, which I recall being taught was all about the eternal struggle in the human condition between the precariously balanced forces of good and evil, set against the violent background of complex struggles for justice. (I can hear my English teacher speaking as I write that!)
I was reminded of this as I read Luke 21: 5-19, our Gospel passage for this Sunday – Remembrance Sunday, when we think about and pay respect to all those who have sacrificed their lives for us in wars, in struggles to bring and maintain peace in troubled places, and who have died fighting for a better future. The passage paints a vivid picture of betrayal, chaos and destruction: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” (vv 10-11) and, “all will be thrown down.” (v 6b) The passage is offered in the context of Jesus’ forthcoming death and the preparation of the disciples for the struggle to come. It spoke strongly into the violence of humans and of the natural world 2000 years ago, and it speaks ever more strongly into our world context today. Just as there was fear and uncertainty then, so there is today: fuel and food crises overwhelm us; our world is full of doubts, scepticism and manipulation of truths, as people anxiously seek some sort of meaning; we are living with the deeply fragile nature of the world’s environment and of political systems – issues meeting head on in the deliberations at COP27 right now.
And yet, in Dickens’ novel, hope for the future is brought out of chaos by the unselfish love of one man. At this Remembrance time, we recall the great sacrifice millions made and continue to make for our safety. And how much greater is the Gospel narrative’s message of hope and the triumph of life for everyone who desires it, through the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, who has promised, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (vv 18-19). Jesus offers us the Spring of hope out of the winter of our despair; because of Jesus, we have the confidence that goodness and justice will triumph over evil; he is the Light of love shining through the darkness in every age.
- Charles Dickens, A tale of two cities, opening lines.
Image: free to use via Pixahive. https://pixahive.com