Widowers only want companionship
Göttingen Sermons on the Internet ed. by U. Nembach
Sermon for Matthew 25: 31-46 written by Elizabeth Mester
GOOD MATE - Sermon for Memorial Day 2011
Eating the hungry, watering the thirsty, sheltering strangers, dressing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners and burying the dead - these are the seven works of mercy, as the Christian tradition knows and calls them. The seventh work: Burying the dead, Jesus did not mention in his parable of the Last Judgment (Mt. 25, 31-46). Rather, it is claimed that Jesus asked a young man to follow him without first having buried his father. "Let the dead bury their dead", he is reported to have said to him (Mt. 8, 22). The church father Lactantius added the seventh work of mercy in the third Christian century. Bury the dead. This has been a moral requirement ever since. They should do not lie like dead animals and become food for scavengers, the dead. They are and remain people, even if they have died. That has been true since then. It is not only true for us here and now. It also applies to the dead of wars The fallen soldiers, they shouldn't just be left behind in the sludge and filth of a battlefield. It's called the calm after the storm, when the guns are silent between battles. These breaks are there so that the fallen can be picked up and buried. Usually it is the victors who also pick up the corpses of their enemies on the land they have just won and lay them to rest, just like those of their own fallen.
Today is national mourning day. The day that is there for people to think about the fallen soldiers. Likewise to the widows who had to go on living without their husbands. To the children who grew up without their fathers. All of these still exist today, and not only here here - wars and the consequences of such violence can be seen and felt all over the world. We want to think about that too in this service today. But first I would like to sing with you: From Psalm 283, verses 3, 4, 6 + 7.
Burying the dead had been a work of mercy since the third Christian century - something of a sacred duty. Even the dead on the battlefield. They were not left lying in the dust of the theater of war, but were taken along to bury them somewhere, quickly and poorly, perhaps, but at least. This Christian duty was fulfilled. They were poor fellows, the recruits, both from your own side and those from the other side.
In an old mercenary song it says: "Where I fall, I will be scraped down, without sound and without songs, nobody asks who I am."
And yet people have started to ask where they are, who sometimes buried the dead soldiers flat and poorly. Where there is death, there is grief. Grief seeks a place. Very often an important place for mourning is the grave of the one who died. It can mean a lot to those who have to go on living without him. It is not only the case with the relatives of the fallen. Even the surviving soldiers.
There is a song that tells about how a soldier is doing who witnessed a friend being torn apart by a bullet right next to him. It is actually a poem by Ludwig Uhland. It became known in a setting by Friedrich Silcher. "The good comrade" is what they say.
I had a comrade,
You won't find a better one.
The drum beat to fight
He walked by my side
In the same step and step.
A bullet came flying
Is it me or is it you
It tore him away
He is at my feet
Like it's a piece of me
I still want to reach out my hand
Meanwhile, I just invite.
Can't shake your hand
You stay in eternal life
My good comrade!
Ludwig Uhland wrote this poem during the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon. Austria was the first European country to rise up against the ruler from France. As a result, the French army recruited many young men in occupied Baden and forced them to campaign against the Tyrolean rebels. Ludwig Uhland sympathized with them, the people of Baden who came from his homeland, but also with the freedom fighters on the other side. His friend and patron Leo von Seckendorf fell as a captain on the side of the Austrians.
The poet felt sorry for the people whose blood was shed in this war. That was unusual. To empathize with the "enemies" was not customary and also undesirable. Actually, neither was it with one's "own" soldiers. They weren't really considered human, more like human material, just like maneuvering mass. The soldiers were not spoken to, they were calculated or threatened. They were drafted and trained, commanded, battered and harassed, lined up and sent into battle. The individual man counted little to nothing. His death was more a matter of statistics than one of sympathy. Morality and the military were two different things.
This went on until the citizens in the cities became stronger and were able to counter the nobility. They demanded that things should be decent - not only in their town hall and in the government of their country - also in the military. That you don't destroy the young men for them with the terrible drill. That they are not sent to a pointless death as cannon fodder. They demanded that they could serve in the army and perhaps even make a career there, while remaining human. People with personality and dignity; People who have the right to protection and care, citizens in uniform, as we say today. Put an end to the human trafficking, they demanded, our sons are not wretched soldiers, they are responsible citizens who defend their country when necessary.
What is more important? Politics or the military? That was what it was about then.
There were democrats for whom people didn't start with the lieutenant. They demanded that even those wearing lower ranks should be free men, mature personalities and independent subjects who should be responsible not to their superiors but to their conscience. No command, not even that of a king, could release them from responsibility for their actions. At that time it was called the "freedom of the back". Today it is called the principle of inner guidance. Nobody can talk himself out of a command emergency and say that he was forced to commit some kind of crime.
Back then, 200 years ago, citizens appeared for the first time in Germany who said that the honor of soldiers is not based on bravery, obedience or the willingness to sacrifice oneself. Rather, it consists in being and staying a decent person, even in uniform - if necessary, up to active resistance. Decent is someone who respects human dignity - his own and that of others.
A person's dignity applies even after death. To bury him when he has died is the minimum. To honor him, even after his death, that is the important thing about it.
The concept of comradeship came up. Comradeship was about not being alone militarily, but being human as a soldier. Even as a small infantryman.
"The good comrade" is what Ludwig Uhland calls his poem. If a real comrade is a good person in a soldier's dress, then the good comrade is even better. Can that be?
I. That's where it starts. I had a comrade. I. I am human and I know what I want. The first thing I don't say is "yes", but "I". I am ready to defend my country by gun when there is no other option but to wage war. I don't want to become a servant or a monster. I want to stay human. I want to be a good comrade - make sure that other people can stay too.
"At the same step" - this does not necessarily mean the thundering of boots in lockstep, to the pounding of the drums. It's not about the stupid form of movement of a marching column, but equality. "At the same step" - the one next to me is worth as much as me. No one stands above the other, that is to say. We are really the same here. Respect for everyone applies here. That is probably what is meant by "good comradeship". What I claim for myself in terms of values and rights applies just as much to the one next to me.
In Uhland's poem there is no longer the "good comrade". He is already dead, in the second word we find out: "hatt". I had him, this comrade. I remember him, miss him now, I suffer from this loss. Whoever reads the poem feels with: the pain, the horror, the sadness. "A bullet came flying". Ludwig Uhland does not ask who shot there or why. There is a war, we already know that. Who was the shooter aiming at? That is not clear, however. And that is precisely what makes it exciting. It is a whim of fate, is it a coincidence - is it for me or is it for you, the ball? And when he asks that, we notice that he is addressing us. The you that he uses here is for me when I read: Is it me or is it you? Anyone can die. Anyone can be affected. Not just in war. I am mortal too.
The friend who is telling this story was hit, right next to him he slumped after the shot. I'm still alive. And I know that a person has died. A person like you. A person like me. Like it's a piece of me But it tore him away. It is now at the feet of those who experience and report it.
The feet cannot go on in the same step. The eyes can't look away and pretend he's not there. The heart cannot just stop feeling. It feels hit by the death of the other. It's a heart, a human heart. It apparently had to hit one of us, and it got him, it says. I might as well have been it myself, it says. He's a person with a family and friends, it says. You will miss him.
Humanity does not grow out of a sense of duty. It comes from a heart that feels, empathizes with the suffering, does not separate the suffering of others from its own and pushes it away. The heart doesn't have much time here. The soldier who survived must hold his rifle, reload and shoot. He cannot shake hands with those who have been hit because he needs it differently now. It's cruel, but it's true. Can't shake your hand Not only to not be able to shake hands with the dying, but to have to kill oneself for the sake of one's own survival, that is inexpressibly cruel. In the ruthlessness of the war and its events, comradeship is doomed to failure. Death is the limit at which it breaks. One dies, the other lives. He lives because he shoots and kills, because the same misery happens on the other side as on this one, at his hand. The camaraderie ends here.
The idea of the decent person who remains good even if he is drawn into the military, the idea of the responsible soldier with his own judgment, the ideal of a member of the military who does not follow senseless orders but his conscience is not over. It still exists. What Ludwig Uhland wanted: There are mature citizens in uniform in our country today.
"Can't shake your hand, you will remain my good comrade in eternal life!" With this the poem closes. It is not about the fallen comrade now going to heaven, which is supposed to comfort the others. That would be too much cheap, he has fallen, and the suffering is nameless.
The good comrade in eternal life means that we do not stop advocating that law and justice take shape even where there is conflict and war. This also means that the life of the soldiers counts no less than that of the so-called civilians. A person is always a person, we shouldn't forget that forever, Uhland warns us. We do not have to give up the belief that man should and can be good, even if there are still wars. And we suffer from the fact that there are wars in God's world. You are not supposed to be. Ludwig Uhland thinks that too when he shows us how cruel the war is that lets people die. He wrote these words not so that alleged heroic deaths can be glorified, but so that we stand up for freedom and human dignity. The ability to mourn the victims of war is also part of the humanity to which he calls us.
A really good comradeship in his sense, a cooperation in the military based on human values has long been sought in vain in Germany. Merciless drill and an almost complete incapacitation of the soldiers prevailed until 1945. In the times of cadaver obedience this poem was sung over and over again, in two ways.
The simple, humiliated and enslaved soldiers, with this song they tried to express their solidarity with one another. Together they have suffered, endured mortal adversities, shared their dreams and hopes, and mourned their dead comrades. When they sang the song "Good Comrade", they knew: It was about them.
The leaderships of the state and the military on the other hand have tried again and again to gloss over the inhuman conditions in the army with the help of this song and to make the soldiers believe that their lives are not worth much more than just being sacrificed. Such a cult of the dead, as practiced with this song, by no means corresponds to the poet's request. For him it was about maturity, about compassion for the neighbor, yes about humanity. That is part of burying the dead. The dead soldiers too. And that they are mourned. So that the value of life is recognized and appreciated and the killing comes to an end, for God's sake. Amen.
For the sermon I used an essay by Harm-Peer Zimmermann: "The good comrade".
For the sermon I used an essay by Harm-Peer Zimmermann: "The good comrade", Zeitschr. Für Volkskunde, 95.Jg.1999, pp.1-13.
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