In the city of Philippi Christians are urged by Paul not to be anxious about anything. If anyone had cause to be anxious, it was Paul, who wrote this letter while he was in prison. Paul is surprisingly joyful in this letter, but at the same time he is concerned about the dangers facing the Philippians, and as he warns them in ch.3 of the ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’, Paul assures the Philippians here in ch.4 that by remaining firm in their faith in the Lord, ‘the peace of God will guard their hearts and minds.’ Today when we are anxious about the ‘enemies of the cross’, and they are many, this assurance for us, as well.
In the field of psychology, anxiety falls within the emotional category of ‘fear’. Anxiety is the result of threats that are perceived as uncontrollable or unavoidable. When we’re faced with a threat, our human response generally goes in one of two ways – it’s either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. We could say that Paul’s advice to ‘stand firm’ in the Lord falls under the ‘fight’ response – it’s a spiritual battle, grounded in the real world. We may not be able to avoid ‘the enemies of the cross,’ and in fact, we are called to confront them. But Paul urges us to have confidence in the cross of Christ, that ultimately God is in control, and the enemies of Christ will be conquered in the end. And so Paul encourages us to focus our minds on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy – and in so doing, our anxieties are smothered by the good things that are promised by our God.
For many people, today is a day of very mixed emotions. Some may be veterans themselves, or have relatives who were affected by war. Some may have loved ones serving currently in the Armed Forces. Others have had relatively little involvement in the realities of armed conflict. But in one way or another, we’re all affected, and most of us share in a deep sense of gratitude for those who put their lives on the line for the freedom of others.
It is important to remember so that we can avoid repeating the same mistakes of the past - but remembering can sometimes bring great anxiety. There are times in this life when to be able to forget might seem the better option. Combatants returning from frontline activity can experience ‘post-traumatic stress’ and find their return to ‘normality’ anything but normal. Even the next generation can be affected if raised around a parent who has struggled in the aftermath of war.
I read an article recently about an American woman named Christal Presley. Christal has written a book called "Thirty Days with My Father", which has been described as ‘a gritty memoir written by a woman haunted by what some psychologists describe as second-generation post-traumatic stress disorder.’ Christal’s father served in the Vietnam War. Upon his return, at first things seemed ok – he married and had a daughter, but then this man’s flashbacks became so bad he became violent, reclusive and suicidal for many years. And as his daughter Christal grew up, she began to have serious problems stemming from living in this kind of home environment. Through counselling, she came to realised she was facing the demons of her father’s war.
The term, ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ was officially defined after the Vietnam War. It wasn’t a properly recognised or treated condition in the days of WWI or II – but the condition itself was certainly there as a result of those wars – it was called ‘shell shock’ in WW1 and ‘Combat Stress Reaction’ in WWII, and it had its effects on the generations subsequently born to those who battled in those wars.
It’s important to remember, even when it isn’t easy. Sometimes memories are anything but lovely, admirable, excellent or praise-worthy. But remembrance is at the heart of healing and restoring, because it’s only when we spend that necessary time of remembering that we can then move on into a new beginning. Helping his daughter write her book made it possible for Christal Presley’s father to return to the land of the living. And this is the transforming power of remembrance; this is where new life can be found out of death.
Today we remember the many people who have fought to protect freedom and bring peace. But in our remembering, let’s not forget the One who puts the vision of freedom and peace into our hearts. He is the One who comes to bring us ultimate freedom and peace.
Peace is more than just the avoidance of war, because peace also includes reconciliation. It’s about building relationships between people, between communities and between nations. And we must start with ourselves, through our own reconciliation with God, and then we must continue in our families, in our parish and in our communities, to build relationships of peace and reconciliation.
And for that we desperately need God’s help, to change and transform us; to shape us; to give us a passion for peace and for justice and a passion to keep on following Jesus, who is the path to peace. Colossians 1:17 tells us that ‘in Christ, all things are held together.’ Christ holds us in remembrance. And we are called to live in remembrance of Him.
In the last days, God’s kingdom will be fully established on earth as it is in heaven; and then God’s people will be settled and content under the reign of the Lord. There will be righteous judgment, peace and harmony; there will be no more war or fear of any kind. We pray for that kingdom to come whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. And as we walk with Jesus on our journey of discipleship, we’re walking into that kingdom, which is being built even now within us and in His Church.
There is a tension that we have to live with until the fullness of that kingdom comes. Today we remember those who have fallen in conflict, in the service of this country. World Wars I and II were immensely traumatic for this nation, and their legacies are still being explored today. But we will remember those who fought in the hope that their service was not in vain – and that by remembering, ‘we that are left’ will be spurred on to work passionately for reconciliation, to the glory of God. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And may the peace of God guard our hearts and minds as we stand firm in the faith. Amen.