Let Us Remember
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:5)
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month ninety-nine years ago the guns of the Western Front fell silent and a calm descended on the fields of France. The war which had raged for four years was over. The time had come to count the cost. It was staggering. In villages and towns, in cities and hamlets across the country memorials were built to memorialise those who had fallen and their surfaces were filled with names. At minimum more than one in ten of the young men who had marched off to fight never returned. Everyone knew someone whose life had been touched by loss in this war to end all wars. In its aftermath our forefathers decreed a national day of remembrance. Not celebration. Not even commemoration, but remembrance. So let us remember.
Let us remember those who died. There’s the thing, though. As time has passed our immediate contact with those men has passed with it. My grandfather served with the ASC at Gallipoli. I knew my grandfather. We talked and through him I had an immediate link with those events. My son never knew my grandfather. We can look at these long lists of names: we can look at the seemingly endless rows and columns of carefully tended graves and, perhaps, be overwhelmed by their numbers. Maybe we see only the names and the numbers.
Each of these men, though, was a unique human being. Each had his own personality, his own unique sense of humour, his own particular list of things that made him smile or made him sad. And each was loved. We gather in remembrance in the presence of God: the God who created each and every one of them as he knows each and every one of us; loved each and every one of them as he loves each and every one of us. For God each and every one was a precious child. And none - not one - will be forgotten. So let us remember.
Let us remember what war is. War is pain and loss. It is grief and destruction. Yes, I know that comradeship and courage can be forged and and honed on the field of battle. But for every one of those names there is a human being whose life was cut short, whose flower bloomed for too short a season. Yes, we can honour their courage and their willingness to lay down their lives and it’s right that we should. But we cannot forget that for each of them there are hearts broken and tears wept. For each of them there is a space in the life of a family that would never be filled. Let us remember.
Let us remember what war is. It is a mark of human failure. It is the mark of our failure as human beings to get on with one another. Let me be clear: soldiers do not make war. That would be politicians. It would be kings and emperors, princes and potentates. It would be people in power. Men and women in our armed forces prosecute those decisions and do so with dedication, dignity and courage. We can examine the causes of wars but what they boil down to, ultimately, is human fallibility: to human beings giving way to the lures of greed or hatred or pride. They boil down to humanity’s failure to follow the teachings of Christ: to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
So that’s us. That’s humanity all over. We mess up. We fall prey to the parts of ourselves that lead us to hatred and violence; to seeing the folk on the other side of the barricade, on the other side of the border, on the other side of the divisions we throw up of languages or religion or race or culture as something other than our brothers and sisters. We’ve been doing that a long time. But we are gathered here, in this building: a building dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To the idea that we are not bound by the frailties and fallibilities of our human nature. To the idea that if we have failed before to love one another that doesn’t mean we don’t get to try again. To the idea that we are not bound to the past and doomed by it to repeat the mistakes we have made. To the idea that through the grace of God each of us can let go of what has been before and been reborn. And if that applies to each of us, then why not to humanity as a whole. Let us remember.
Let us remember to hope. Hope is divine. Hope is a spark of God’s creative power in the hearts of his children. It is a capacity we have as human beings that marks us out as children of God, made in the image of God. It is the ability we have to imagine a world remade: a world that is better than the world we live in - a world closer to what it is meant to be. Closer to Heaven. Let us live in hope that one day there will be an eleventh hour of an eleventh day of an eleventh month when the guns will fall silent over all the world and will never speak again. When, however much we admire courage and a willingness of men and women to lay down their lives for others, they will never again be asked to march to the drums of war.
Let us remember to pray. Prayer is a gift from God. It is the offer he makes to us to draw close to him and touch his love. It is the opportunity he offers us to remember, before him, all those who are caught up in the conflicts of the world; those who serve in our armed forces and all those who are caught up in conflict - the homeless kid hiding in the rubble maybe half a world away or the huddled hordes of refugees shivering in tents. It is the chance to remind ourselves, in God’s presence, that we are all alike: that we know what folk are going through and that we care. If that long list on the wall behinds me means anything at all it means that we can, though the grace of God care enough for people we don’t know to want things to be better. To want a world that lives in peace. Let us remember to pray and seek God’s help in doing what we can to bring that about.
Let us remember to have faith. Faith, Paul wrote, is certainty about what we can’t see. Call it what you like. I have faith, though, in the love of God. I have faith, too, oddly enough, in humanity. I believe that one day we will remember who we are. That we will remember that we are children of God, made in the image of God and that we are made not for conflict but for compassion; that we are made for not for the brandished fist but the offered hand; that we are made not for the bloodshed of the battlefield but for the Kingdom of Heaven. We are made in love, by love, for love. Let us remember.
Let us remember the love of God. A love that forgets none of his children. A love in which we may have hope - the hope that one day we will all be reunited with those we remember today. That we will be gathered in the presence to see world transformed. A world where swords are beaten into ploughshares. A world where nation speaks peace to nation. A world that studies war no more.
Lord we gather in remembrance. We remember those who have fallen in war and honour their sacrifices, but we seek another path for humanity. Help us to speak words of peace to the world. Help us to offer compassion in the face of conflict and love in the face of anger
Preached at Gretna Old parish church