A sermon preached by The Revd Dr David Coulter, Chaplain General
Text: Lamentations 3: 22
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”
I am not sure if I have ever preached from the OT book of Lamentations before today, but then again I have never appeared before the Law, before today?
In July 2016 the Nepalese government announced that it would be setting new regulations for climbing Mount Everest. These new regulations, which are by no means the first regulations to hit Everest in recent years, are being put in place to reduce the risk to climbers on the mountain. The Department of Tourism released their draft Mountain Expedition Regulation under the Tourism Act in which the following rules were added:
1. Climbers must be accompanied by a guide at all times – no solo climbs.
2. Climbers must have summited a 7,000 meter peak prior to attempting Everest.
3. People over the age of 75 are banned from climbing.
4. People who are blind are banned from climbing.
5. Double amputees are banned from climbing.
6. Helicopter rides over EBC are to be heavily restricted.
7. Sherpa’s will also to get a summit certificate after the climb.
In addition, the new regulations state that pregnant women and people with severe illnesses are not allowed to work as liaison officers.
I am sure the world over that a number of blind, geriatric, amputees who are devastated! But if nothing else it appears that the Rule of Law gets everywhere, even to the top of the world.
Many of you will be aware that the current High Sherriff Sir David Hempleman-Adams is an industrialist by profession and an adventurer by preference. He is also one of the few and most certainly the only High Sherriff who has ever climbed Everest not once but twice. The Pilgrim Poem, “The Golden Journey to Samarkand”, by James Elroy Flecker, which David read, has become a motto for the SAS and the line: “Always a little further…” is inscribed below the new SAS memorial window in Hereford Cathedral. The sculptor John Maine was given a brief which was to be aspirational rather than brave in what is called the “Ascension” window as a focus for reflection, pilgrimage and worship; marking Herefords long association with the elite fighting force.
You don’t have to be an aspiring Everest climber or a member of the Special Forces to want to “always go a little further.” “Because it’s there!” has been called the most famous three words in mountaineering and attributed to George Mallory in the New York Times in 1923. These words are invariably trotted out whenever someone is trying to justify an unjustifiable ambition. Why travel to the moon? Why explore the depths of the oceans? Mallory died on his third attempt at Everest in 1924, as countless others have died, “always going a little further” simply to achieve what’s there.
In a few minutes the choir will sing the anthem: “It was in that train” composed by Barry Ferguson that tells the story of how on 10 September 1946 during a train journey from the plains to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa of Calcutta received what she described as the “call within the call” within her soul that changed the course of her life forever. In turn it led her on her journey of faith to establish the Missionaries of Charity whose members take vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and a fourth vow to give: “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”. “Always to go a little further” because the refugee; the mentally ill; the abandoned child; the leper; the destitute; the aged and the infirm will, “always be there”. Their mission is to love the unloved and in the words of Saint Ignatius Loyola pray:
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.
I think there are some things in life which are hard to legislate against and which quite naturally lay a burden of responsibility upon all of us. The newly erected Iraq Afghanistan Memorial dedicated and unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen on 9 March 2017 includes the words DUTY and SERVICE. And the sculptor Paul Day deliberately left one side of the memorial rough-hewn to represent the unfinished nature of conflict but also the difficult journey and challenge involved in UK operations in the Gulf region, Iraq and Afghanistan between 1990 and 2015.
In her message at the unveiling HM the Queen said that: “It is with pride that we honour the contribution of all members of the armed forces and civilians who served our country – at home and abroad – while endeavouring to bring peace and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan. We shall be forever grateful to them for the part they played”…. HM went on to say: “I am sure the new memorial will provide a fitting opportunity for all to reflect upon events of that 25 year period, remembering the many examples of personal courage and achievement in adversity, and the great sacrifices that were made.”
Courage; Loyalty; Discipline; Integrity; Self-Sacrifice and Respect for others, are the soldiers’ core values that enable them to do their duty; to be a service to others and to do so with pride. Such things are enshrined in law but they are the very basis of military life. They enable good order and military discipline but they also provide a framework for living and a bond of trust where one soldier will lay down their life for their fellow man. As scripture says “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
What we find in the OT book of lamentations is not only moving and passionate expressions of grief and sorrow, but also of faith rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of Jerusalem, where the city and the temple had been destroyed not only at the hands of the Babylonians but also at the hands of the Romans in AD 70. The faith of those left behind after the exile was grounded in hope based on the steadfast love of God, beyond disaster. The poems in Lamentations were a creative response to crisis for a people not bound by law; they enabled the community, openly and healingly in worship, to go a little further, to live through their tragedy and bitterness and to bring the questions they faced to God.
It is not surprising that these poems have not only helped sustain the Jewish community through the generations but have also found their place in the Christian tradition in the events of Holy Week and in this season of Lent. Their healing power is open to all who are prepared to live through tragedy and grief and to share it with God and their fellow believers.
In 1215 Magna Carta established the Rule of Law where “except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land” man’s actions would be judged. This day let us give thanks to God for all those who apply the Rule of Law and who administer justice. For all those pilgrim people who climb mountains; keep the peace and put them-selves in harm’s way that others might live in harmony and security. For all those who give of their time, talents and money for the good of their fellow man. And how in faith, hope and love we can all give thanks that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.