Psalm 107:23 – Others went out on the sea in ships. (NIV)
Joshua 4:6-7 – In the future, when your children ask you, "What do these stones mean?" tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."
Aboard H.M.C.S. Sackville — It's interesting to "people-watch" as you go through a museum, especially this one. Most younger people are a bit bored. To them, it's just more history-under-glass, and they think they get more than enough of that at school. But for the not-so-young in this crowd, it's different. The older ones take their time. They understand. Some reach for a tissue, or a hanky, as they remember.
Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Sackville is a floating museum on the waterfront in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But it is more than just a museum. It is Canada's national naval memorial. It is our last "corvette". To explain that, we need to take a journey almost 60 years and a thousand miles away: World War II, in the mid-Atlantic.
From the beginning days of World War II, one of the weak spots for the Allied nations was the convoy supply route across the north Atlantic Ocean. A group of ships travelled together as a convoy for protection. It was this convoy route that kept Britain supplied with food and war material in her darkest hour, when the rest of Europe had fallen under Adolph Hitler's heel. The Nazis knew if they could sink enough ships and break the supply chain, they could starve Britain into defeat, and be unchallenged in the Old World. They threw every U-boat they could into the North Atlantic in "wolf-packs". Thus began the Battle of the Atlantic. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill wrote, "The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, on sea or in the air, depended ultimately on its outcome."
There was a desperate need for ships to defend the convoys. Canada's solution was to build "corvettes". They were small ships — only 205 feet stem to stern — and could be turned out in small shipyards across the country. Designed only for coastal work, they were soon crossing the Atlantic, protecting the merchant ships. They won that battle. H.M.C.S. Sackville is the last reminder of that battle. While other ships were sold or broken up for scrap, this vessel was saved, and refurbished, so that to step aboard her is to be transported back to 1944.
Though this may seem odd, today's scripture similarly calls us to remember a great deliverance by means of a small memorial. The nation of Israel safely crossed the Jordan, and Joshua 4 records how Joshua instructs one man from each tribe of Israel: "Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (Joshua 4:5-7)
Later, it is recorded that a stone is set up as a witness that the covenant was renewed. (Joshua 24:17) Rocks aren't the only things the nation of Israel kept as a reminder. Manna (Exodus 16:32) and Aaron's rod (Numbers 17:10) were also preserved. It was a way of making sure that remembrance of the great deeds of the nation would not die out, when the generation that witnessed them passed on. Memorials of all kinds, in all times, are to prompt the same question the stones from the Jordan did.
So too, may these days prompt the same questions from our younger people. It is the time of year we remember. We remember the freedom we enjoy — and what it cost. We remember those who were killed and injured, and those who served. Some, who tour the Sackville with moist eyes, remember those who "went down to the sea in ships", and did not return: sons, brothers, fathers and friends.
It has been sixty years this year, when it was not "peace in our time", but war — terrible war — and yet the only way to stop the inhuman madness that was Nazi Germany. The World War I veterans are a handful now, and the ranks of those who served in Korea and World War II thin with each passing day. While they still can, let them tell us the tale of service and sacrifice. Let us who have ears, listen, for it is now our responsibility to tell the children of the new millennium of the deeds they have done here. I saw a bumper sticker as I left Sackville. It said, "If you love your freedom, thank a veteran." Amen.
Prayer: Lord, war is terrible. We look forward to the day when we will beat our swords into plowshares. But the price of the freedom we enjoy today is the willingness to defend it. Help us pause for more than a moment, and truly reflect on "they died, that I might live in freedom." Amen.