I find Remembrance Sunday increasinlgy moving as the years go on.
Although I would prefer preaceful resolutions, I realise I live a privileged existence due to the fact that others have fought for my peace - both by taking up arms, and by being disciplined and/or killed for choosing not to. It is so complex.
Below is my sermon for Remembrance Sunday. There is a link at the end to a poem I read at the end, it is very thought-provoking.
Remembrance Sunday 2011
Many of you will have watched the immensely disturbing scenes in Libya recently as Colonel Gadaffi was caught and killed: disturbing because it brought to our screens the reality of how humanity is able to treat one another. Some of you will think he deserved it, some of you will think he should have been tried in a Court of Law, and some of you will think it was good that he was not allowed to have a platform for his views. My father used to say, ‘There but for the grace of God…’ and the conclusion to this statement as some of you will know is, ‘go I’. There but for the grace of God go I: go I, go we, go each one of us.
It is worth remembering that, just as there are those who think Colonel Gadaffi ‘got what was coming to him’, there will be others on the other side of conflicts with which we are involved who think that the members of our Armed Services who are killed get what they deserve too. I am absolutely not saying this view is right; I am simply pointing out for us all the complexity of any of these situations. There are two sides – at least – to any of these disputes.
Thankfully, we do not live within a brutal, totalitarian regime that flouts any sense of the honouring of humanity, neither do we live in a land that readily calls out members of our Armed Forces to quell those who wish to march along the streets of our capital city, or even camp on the steps of St Paul’s. Where peaceful demonstration is held, then it is allowed – subject to the usual red tape constraints, of course.
But there are differing views – always. It would be naïve, simplistic and wrong to suggest otherwise. What do we do about these differing views though? Do we seek by all means possible ways to comprehend, to understand, to come to a conclusion that allows for peace? Or do we – in any life situation in our lives where there is conflict – march in, seeking have our own way – regardless of the consequences?
The reasons for which our country is engaged in each military campaign at present are many and varied, as well as deeply complex. There are those who have thought and considered the various options open to us. What I hope though, in the midst of their deliberations, is that they have prayed. I hope they have seriously prayed – with hearts wide open for the right way to proceed.
It is so easy, when we come in prayer to God to have our mind already made up, to think that we really do know best. We come, without realising it, ready to tell God what God should be thinking, what God should be doing, or even how God should be acting in any particular situation. To do this leaves us entirely closed to the possibility of change, either for ourselves or those with whom we are engaged.
This season of Remembrance is a powerful one for so many. There are those who remember wives, husbands, sons, daughters or other family members who have died – many years ago and in recent years. There are those who remember colleagues and comrades lost in action through the years. There are those who remember friends and family and colleagues who have fought and been seriously injured. There are those who remember women and men who refused to fight, who sought to find another way for the resolution of conflict. There are those who remember volunteers and conscripts who have served in any one of the many Military Campaigns in which our country has been engaged since the signing of the Armistice some ninety-three years ago.
Yes, there were Wars before, and, as we know all too well, there have continued to be Wars since: to testify to this truth in recent years we witnessed the moving scenes in Royal Wootton Bassett as local citizens, and then others, gathered to pay their respects to Service Personnel who are dying even now. The signing of the Armistice was for many, a moment of marking a line in the sand, saying that this was enough, things had to stop, things had to change. Remembering is about reminding. We remember those who fell to remind ourselves about that line in the sand. The Armistice was signed, to bring an end to it all.
When we continue to witness, all these years on, the shedding of blood, we may well ask what to do with this remembering. Is it enough to remember? Is it enough to stand by the War Memorial each year, with so many paying so little heed at any other time of the year? What thoughts might go through our minds as we stand in silence for those two long minutes each year? What will you think of today?
Remembrance Sunday is one of the few occasions in the year when people of all generations, all political persuasions, all religious affiliations, and none, will gather together – sometimes being looked at by others who don’t understand, who are dis-interested, or confused. It is one of the few occasions when many gather to think of others so much more than themselves. It is this sense of thinking of others rather than ourselves which gives us a clue as to what we might think of in those two minutes of silence.
There is no doubt that the reality of the front line was and is grim, it was and is bloody, it was and is terrifying, it was and is death-ridden. This reality cannot be ignored. Another reality may be held alongside this though: that women and men from this country, and from across the world, were willing to think of others rather than only themselves so that the lives of others would be kept safe. These people are not only of the dim and distant past – ones who are apparently forgotten by the passing of the years – these people who think of others rather than only themselves are to be found in our own age too. I have mentioned Royal Wootton Bassett, and, as we know, the honouring of the recently killed Service Personnel, has now moved near to the Air Base at Carterton. People gather to honour those who have thought of others rather than only themselves – people of our own age.
Working for peace is difficult. It is difficult and it is costly. Working for peace means seeking to understand and comprehend the motives of the other as well as our own motives too. It may seem simplistic to say that most arguments, most battles, most wars even, begin because there is a selfish drive by one side or the other to have their own way. The injured party may retaliate, or others may intervene on the side of the injured party, and so it begins.
There is a song that begins: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. There are those who have, for the sake of others put these words into practice: by taking up arms, by refusing to take up arms, by seeking reconciliation not just retaliation. In honouring the fallen, in honouring those who sought after peace in other ways, in honouring those who nurse and who nursed, those whose who drive vehicles and those who drove, those who carried messages across dangerous terrain, and those who work in satellite communication today: in honouring them, let us strive to bring to good effect all that they strove for – for peace. Those who we remember today gave their lives for peace, and we do well to remember this, to remind ourselves of this, as we remember them today.