‘Qoheleth’ is the narrator of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This Hebrew name is often translated ‘Teacher’ or ‘Preacher’, and originally referred to someone who gathered a congregation together in order to speak to them. His most famous catchphrase was ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!’
from 'Miscellaneous Writings'
Remembrance Day Meditation
One silent, faded photograph…
a picture of great-uncle Hugh,
who no doubt hoped to make it through—
but his name adorns the Cenotaph.
He died, aged eighteen and a half,
caught by a bullet; or was it a bomb?
Or just the bad luck to be on the Somme
on the first of July in 1916,
fighting for country, king and queen?
Or so they say. To be honest, I don’t really know,
and it all seems, oh, so very long ago…
And so I wonder what to remember
when I wear a red poppy each November.
I do not feel especially blessed
to hear the ancient story:
Dulce et decorum est
pro patria mori.
For I don’t believe that ancient lie
that for one’s country one should die
without a second thought. And, what is more,
I whisper, I confess: I’m not sure I approve of war.
Did it really help God’s kingdom come
to slaughter soldiers at Verdun
with gun and gas and bayonet?
And yet, and yet…
something deep across the years
hovers near the edge of tears.
However foolish the commands,
there’s something noble, that demands
our deep respect, when men of worth,
in a trench of mud and earth,
receive the order from HQ;
swear, put on the tea for a final brew,
mutter curses under their breath…
then go over the top to certain death.
The act that killed them may yet be
an echo of Gethsemane;
however faint, however blurred,
however much they may have erred,
the cup they drank, the death they died,
may bring them closer to God’s side
than many longer lives have done,
pursuing power, wealth and fun.
At least they faced their fear, and won.
And so we stand, and give respect
to the dead, who help me to reflect
upon the vanity of days
spent playing games in a moral haze
as if the end will never come,
deaf to judgement’s distant drum.
If not my country, something more
must be worth my dying for;
if Christ chose to pay that cost
to rescue us when we were lost,
we cannot hold our lives so dear
that if he demands them, we should fear
to give them back with joy. And may we learn
that when at last it is our turn
no act of love can ever transcend
giving our life for the sake of a friend.
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