Sermon for 11 November

Westcott Ordinand Laurence Price preached for the evening Eucharist on 11 November. You can read his sermon here.

Sermon for the feast of St Martin of Tours

“When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?”

The man knew he was close to death. He was lying by the side of the road near Amiens, in northern France; he only had rags to protect him. The sky was black with winter storms. He couldn’t last one more night in the open. Hungry, thirsty, naked; hopeless. And then something happened.

Today is St Martin’s day. So you’re probably going to expect me to carry on with the beautiful story of St Martin, the dashing young Roman cavalry officer. Martin cut through his military cloak and looked after the shivering beggar, keeping him warm. This was braver than it seems; strictly speaking, it probably wasn’t even his cloak. Roman soldiers had to pay for their uniform and equipment, through regular deductions from their pay. What Martin did was the equivalent of knocking his house down before paying off the mortgage.

But today is also November 11. And it’s a day when we are called to remember another story. We have to cut through St Martin’s narrative and travel forward fifteen hundred years. This is the story not just of one soldier at Amiens, but thousands. 

Amiens was the scene of one of the most violent battles of the First World War. In August 1918, the entire German army lay demoralised, exhausted, hungry and hopeless. At Amiens, the Allied troops took full advantage of the Germans’ plight. They launched an unexpected attack. On the single day of August 8 1918, thirty thousand Germans died or were wounded. The Allied death toll on that day was a “mere” 8,000.

In this Remembrance season, we should never forget the horror of what war entails. War doesn’t just destroy the bodies of the casualties; it leaves scars on the survivors’ souls. But St Martin shows us that every soldier- every human being- still has the capacity to bring both suffering and love. 

So our gospel today challenges us to make that choice. Will we be like great marching armies, rushing past the hungry and the hopeless as we advance to fulfil our oh-so important objectives? Or will we be like St Martin and stop and shelter people- even just give them a kindly smile and acknowledge that we are human together?

That night after St Martin had helped the freezing beggar, he had a dream. Martin saw the beggar again; only this time he had the face of Jesus. Today, I pray that we will all be able to be more like St Martin: to cut through our symbols of status; brave the cold winds of embarrassment; and see the face of Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger too. 


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