(This is an edited version of the talk at the Remembrance Sunday Service at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.)
A couple of weeks ago I decided a little bit of relaxing escapism might be in order and so I watched a James Bond film – an old one: You Only Live Twice. In case anybody is worried I would not regard James Bond as a moral role model to follow in all respects, but this film was quite enjoyable.
There is a scene in this film made in 1967 with Sean Connery in the lead role in which Bond is buried at sea. His death is faked so that he can track down the bad guys below the radar as it were and from this burial scene on board the ship, I recognised some words from the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer:
‘We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, (when the Sea shall give up her dead)…’
It was very striking to hear those words because what would be the chances of hearing anything from Christian England in a James Bond film made 50 years on?
The Prayer Book’s Order for the Burial of the Dead whether on land or at sea would have been familiar to pretty much every one of those individuals on our Memorial who gave their lives in the two world wars of the 20th Century, because the Prayer Book was part of English culture.
Certainly, most of the soldiers who fought in War World I, like my Yorkshire grandfather, could have recited at least something from the Book of Common Prayer.
Expressing the teaching of the Bible, the Prayer Book proclaims the resurrection of the body, as reflected in that James Bond burial scene. The Prayer Book says that every person who has ever lived and died will rise again bodily.
And in this respect the Prayer Book expresses in particular the teaching of our New Testament reading from the letter the Hebrews this morning: ‘Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people: and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him’ (Hebrews 9v27-28 – NIV).
‘Man is destined to die once.’ It is our God-appointed destiny as sinful human beings to experience physical death. That is life in a world in which humanity has taken the decision to rebel against the good and loving God who made us and who has power of life and death over us.
Our bodies will, as the Prayer Book puts it, be turned into corruption. They will decay, but that is not the end of the story. After death, we will rise again bodily to face the judgement of God – ‘Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement’.
What do you think the verdict will be for you at the Last Judgement?
There has just been an election in America and the electoral verdict on the two candidates was very unpredictable until Wednesday morning. The polls were suggesting one candidate would win but the actual winner defied the polls.
An unpredictable verdict, but according to the Bible God’s verdict on each and every one of us is predictable, and we cannot say we were not warned. The penalty for rebellion against the Lord God Almighty is eternal condemnation, eternal separation from his glorious presence and that is an outcome all of us are heading for because all of us have in our own way rebelled against God. As the Apostle Paul put it so succinctly in his New Testament letter to the Romans (6v23), ‘the wages of sin is death’ – death in both senses of the word, physical death once and spiritual death for ever.
So, unless something is done about our sin, God’s judgement is something you and I should rightly dread for the terrible things we have thought and said and done.
But thank the good Lord something amazing, something destiny-changing has been done about our sin. As that reading from Hebrews says: ‘Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.’
On the Cross, God’s one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, died in our place to take the punishment of death we deserve, so that everyone who believes in him may not suffer the punishment of eternal separation from God but may have eternal life, the enjoyment of eternity in God’s loving presence after we die. For Jesus rose from the dead three days after he died on the Cross and will return to this world one day in the future to save for ever those who believed and trusted in him.
That is good news for you and for me this morning. That is in fact the greatest news we could ever hear given the terrible fate we would otherwise be facing.
The Prayer Book in fact beautifully proclaims that wonderful good news in its burial service. The James Bond burial scene does not give the full quotation from the Prayer Book.
The full quotation goes like this: ‘We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, (when the Sea shall give up her dead,) and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.’
The key phrase here is ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Who are the people entitled to say ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’? Who does the ‘our’ refer to here?
Christian believers, people who are believing and trusting in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. They are the beneficiaries of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. They are the people who will be saved eternally from the judgement to come.
‘Through our Lord Jesus Christ’.
Is he our Lord this morning? Is our King, our Christ, our Ruler? He should be. You need him. We all do – more than anything this world affords.