I experienced a strange array of emotions last night as I watched CNN and the first reports of the beginning of the war with Iraq. In the broadcast being sent from Baghdad, I could hear the explosions of cruise missiles followed by bursts of anti aircraft fire. It sounded much like it did over a decade ago with the beginning of Dessert Storm. My emotions were varied. I must admit I felt a sense of excitement because it was all starting to happen and we would witness much of it right on our televisions. I felt relieved after weeks of waiting and worrying. I felt frightened for the young men and women who serve in the United States Military and who would be putting their lives on the line. I felt sad that perhaps many civilians would suffer and die because of this tragic war. I felt angry that human beings can’t find better ways to solve problems and even angrier that madmen like Saddam Hussein still rule in the world. And I felt anxious about the future – how would it all go, how long will the war last, can we keep the Middle East from exploding? These and many other emotions flooded my mind as I sat their realizing that once again, like the Gulf War, like September 11th, like the invasion of Afghanistan, I was watching history unfold and the changing of the world.
Perhaps many of you have been having similar feelings over the past twenty or so hours. After all the talk, after all the failed diplomacy, after all the movements of troops and all the preparations the waiting is over and the war has begun. It is an anxious time, a fearful time. There are always so many unknowns in war. And after having experienced the devastating affects of terrorism in our own country there is the added fear that the war in Iraq may lead to more attacks upon innocent men, women and children in the United States. What are we to do with all these emotions? How are we to handle the anxiety we feel?
I was proud of our Bishop, Bishop Lee when he sent a letter to all the parishes in the Diocese of Virginia and requested that every church hold a service of prayer within 24 hours of the onset of hostilities in Iraq. It may not seem like much when literally tens of thousands of our troops are putting their lives on the line thousands of miles from home but this decision by Bishop Lee is an important one. His request is a reminder to all of us who consider ourselves Christians that we are not helpless in our fears, nor alone in our anxieties. These services taking place today and tonight in 193 churches within 38 counties in the State of Virginia, represent the strength of the Body of Christ and our firm belief that Christians kneeling together in prayer to a loving God can make all the difference in the world.
And so we gather tonight to pray and take comfort in one another’s presence, believing that our actions matter, believing that as our lessons proclaim this evening, one day God will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We gather to pray in faith that it is not inevitable for nations to lift swords against nations, believing that we can learn to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We gather to pray because we know that just as God has forgiven us we too ought to forgive. We gather to pray in the knowledge that like Christ, we must clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and in so doing learn to bear with one another in love. This is the way of the cross. This is the path Christ has called us to follow.
Tonight, pray for all who will be caught up in this conflict, for our military personnel and their families, including our chaplains. Pray for people who suffer for conscience sake, for Arab Americans of all faiths and for followers of Islam around the world – the great majority of whom share a longing for peace. Pray for the people of Iraq, among whom are more than one million Christians. And prayer for George, our President, and for the leaders of the nations, that they will make wise and measured decisions that will protect the innocent and bring about a swift and just peace.
Further, when you come to the altar tonight to receive the sacrament, come on behalf of someone else as well as for your own sake. Come and seek holy nourishment for yourself and in proxy for someone else involved more directly in this war. When you kneel down and receive the bread and the wine hold in your mind someone else who may be in need of God’s strength, God’s comfort or God’s forgiveness. As you take part in the Holy Communion do so not just for yourself but on behalf of the young Iraqi child living in Baghdad who may be terrified by the sounds of missiles exploding. Do so for the American mother so afraid of what may happen to her son or daughter serving as a soldier on the front lines. Receive the sacrament on behalf of the Iraqi soldier who has no desire to fight, that he may lay down his arms even though he is terrified of what his leaders may do to him if he does not fight. Kneel down on behalf of the young United States marine, sailor, soldier or pilot who has been called to put his or her life on the line for your sake and mine. And most importantly, take the bread and the wine on behalf of George Bush that he may be filled with God’s grace and God’s wisdom to make the right decisions.
The waiting is over. For me the debate has ended. Our leaders have made the best decisions they know how to make and as a free people it is now our duty to stand together in support of our soldiers and one another. As Christians we are not to fear, God’s goodness and faithfulness cannot be shaken. We will make it through this together and by the grace of God peace will once again rule in our land. The Lord be with you and keep you this day and always. Amen.