In Flanders Fields we hear the works of challenge – “To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch”. The poem was penned almost thirty months before the Armistice took hold at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. The author surgeon Lt. Col. John McCrea died of pneumonia on January 1918, almost eleven months before the war’s end. So, his hands were among the thousands who [threw] “the torch” to those who lived on. Yet, the world would never be the same again. There are still fields in Flanders, and elsewhere, that cannot be plowed or planted or productive, that cannot be entered due to the war’s destructive remains. The world was changed forever.
Now let’s travel back into our Gospel reading for today from St Mark. Its date is a bit uncertain, probably written in Italy around 70 A.C.E. The date around 70 is regularly suggested because of today’s passage about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The temple mount was wiped clean, the temple stones were thrown into the surrounding valleys by the Roman legions after they crushed the rebellion. “Not one stone will be left here upon another [Jesus said to his disciples], all will be thrown down.”
Yet, like Dr. John McCrea, “the torch” was thrown to other hands to carry on. Jesus encouraged his followers – “do not be alarmed”, do not panic, do not be afraid, though times would never be the same. Buildings would come and go, but “the torch” would be passed on to other hands.
Sometimes there is so much change, there is so much destruction like on the temple mount and in Flanders Fields, that the future is almost impossible to imagine. In such times my thoughts go to a story published in 1605, yes, 1605 by Miguel de Cervantes. The Quest. It gained popularity in the days of the bloody French Revolution of 1789 – 1799 and became the musical Man of LA Mancha in 1965. It was a favorite of Robert Kennedy. Remember the words –
To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe,
to bear with unbearable sorrow, and to run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong, and to love pure and chaste from afar,
to try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest,
that my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest
That’s what it feels like, sometimes, to catch and carry forward “the torch”— “to try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star”. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote –
Let us consider how to provoke [how to encourage, how to inspire] one another
to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together…, but encouraging one another…
We, too live, in divisive, contentious times, times when the eternal fruits of the Jesus Spirit, of the Holy Spirit, seem to be in very short supply. Perhaps this is the most challenging “supply chain” of our time. “The torch” cast up for us to catch is “the torch” of love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) To live these values, to act with these values, is to live the impossible dream even when our arms are too weary. We are called and commissioned to live these eternal values in this world of negativity and destruction.
In the canticle of Hannah, she fervently prayed –
My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God
and she prayed for a son to continue her legacy of faithfulness in challenging times. Her prayers were answered with a son, Samuel, who would become a man of faith, indeed, a prophet, who would anoint the first two kings of Israel, Saul, and David.
May our fervent prayer be that our hands catch and hold on to “the torch” and carry it forward, and also that we prepare future hands to be our legacy when it is our time to pass it on.
May we not be alarmed; may wee not be afraid; may we not panic. And may our heritage of love and good deeds, our witness, give glory to God as we follow in the blessed footsteps of Jesus, our Lord, and our Guide.