Opening words and chalice lighting
On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, the guns finally fell silent on the western font.
We therefore gather to remember
on this Sunday closest to that time.
As we do so, we light our chalice,
symbol of hope.
We wear our poppies,
symbols of remembrance.
We remember in silence
and with words;
We remember in song
Together we remember.
At 11 a.m we will observe a two-minute silence
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.”
Spirit of Life
Our gathering here
is our solemn and sacred
act of remembrance.
We take time to remember
the casualties of war.
Those who suffered
hardship, injury, loss
and ultimately death.
Those who we never knew
and those still in
our living memory.
Ours is an act of gratitude
for those who gave so much
so that we may live.
Ours is an act of commitment
to pursue the ways of peace
so that none should suffer
the horror of war.
Matthew 5: 1-9
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
This short film from the National Museums of Scotland reflects on why wear the poppy on this day.
Finlandia (Live) by Jean Sibelius, Cantus
“If I should die think only this of me: That there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”
The opening line to the poem “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke.
As we reflect on Remembrance Day, as we do each year, I wonder if sometimes we do this in too distant a way. That maybe we think of war as a thing that happened in a distant time, or happens today in distant places, in some “foreign field”? Past conflicts can sometimes be glorified, or romanticised or viewed as entertainment in movies. Current conflicts maybe reported all too briefly or sanitised for our viewing on the evening news. Do we really understand what is happening, are we fully aware?
Only those who have experienced conflict know the true horror of war of course. A horror too difficult or painful to express, which is why, I suppose, so many veterans never talk about their experiences to their families. Doing so may bring to the surface emotions that can’t easily be contained, or they may feel some things are best forgotten. Perhaps some here have witnessed this in their own families? Some veterans are unable to even involve themselves in acts of remembrance.
Those who kept diaries or wrote memoires quite often doing so in a detached way, as if they were a spectator to events happening around them. Or using casual or dehumanising language, so and so “bought it”, or we “took out” the enemy. One veteran put it like this,
‘It is virtually impossible to convey the atmosphere of battle to anyone who had not had the experience. Even the most lurid film cannot do this as the spectator – comfortably seated with perhaps an ice-cream in hand – knows he is safe and that the ‘good guys’ will win in the end.’
(Evans, D. (1991) The Private Papers of D. Evans. IWM Documents.2028.)
War is a human activity, and although young soldiers maybe trained to obey commands and do their duty, they are human. All are scarred in some way by the experience. Physical scars we can see, but there are psychological scars too. Better understood today than perhaps they once were, they can go deep. Fear may linger, hatred or anger may smoulder just below the surface; veterans may have difficulty fitting back into civilian life or may struggle with their personal relationships. So, unlike physical scars, these may also in some way be passed on to others through the behaviour of an individual. The consequences of conflict and violence can be far reaching indeed.
Many civilians become direct casualties of war too. Homes and lives destroyed in violent ways that we, who have never experienced such things, cannot imagine. Children killed, deliberately or accidently; families displaced, becoming refugees, sometimes never to return. War time activities and priorities have led to deprivation, starvation and exploitation for millions. For example, researchers now believe that Churchill’s policies in India, using resources for the war effort, may have made a significant contribution to a famine in Bengal in 1943 that killed around 3 million people.
In desperate times, as always, the poor and the vulnerable suffer most.
The consequences of war seem to ripple out like an explosion. Affecting people, animals, the environment and even economies. Britain for example only finished paying back its massive loans incurred to cover the cost of the second world war in 2006! And there is estimated to still be 100,000 tonnes of explosives left in the seas around Britain, with some old bombs weighing up to half a tonne. That’s from a war that ended 75 years ago! In other countries that have experienced more recent conflict things are even worse. UNICEF, for example, estimates that 15 to 20,000 people a year are killed, or maimed, by landmines; one in five of those victims being children.
So, if we feel we’ve lived in peaceful circumstances during our lives we can probably count ourselves very fortunate. But in truth conflict will have affected our family in some way and so we are touched whether we realised or not. And those people caught up in conflicts in other parts of the world are human too, just like us. We are all connected.
I imagine that people were living peaceful and normal lives, with everyday hopes and fears, before world war one and two erupted. Then suddenly they were engulfed in events over which they had largely no control. The author J.R.R. Tolkein, was a lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the First World War. Although, it seems he was a reluctant leader, as he wrote, “The most improper job of any man…is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” Nevertheless, a leader he had to be, and he participated in battles at the Somme in 1916. He was eventually invalided back to England after contracting trench fever. Shortly afterwards his battalion was almost entirely wiped out, along with many of his close friends. Events that probably left him with that sense of guilt that many who survived experienced.
He never went back to the front, and after the war ended, he entered into his academic and writing careers. There is no doubt that his wartime experiences shaped his writing, most notably perhaps in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The books have a sense of dark days and events taking place beyond the control of individuals. In this quote from the “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the reluctant hobbit “hero” Frodo realises the forces of darkness are gathering around him and he becomes afraid. So, his friend the wise wizard Gandalf advises him,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo, “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live in such times. But that is not for them to decide. All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
(J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring)
I’m sure many a young soldier has found themselves with such thoughts on a battlefield. Perhaps Tolkien felt this too. Why did this have to happen in my time? But Tolkien’s (or Gandalf’s) advice is sound, “All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Good advice to reflect on at any time really.
We have our own difficulties at the moment of course with the current pandemic, but today we remember the casualties of war. How do we honour the sacrifices of those who have fallen, those who have suffered? The answer surely is to work to stop the darkness of war and conflict from gathering. That is what many of the soldiers of the world war one and two thought they were fighting for. Now it’s our time. To speak for peace, to work for peace, to become peacemakers in a hurting world.
May it be so.
Wherever You Are by the Military Wives
Closing Words by John O’Donohue
As we reflect on conflicts past
May we find there a path to healing and peace.
We pray for all who suffered violence today,
May an unexpected serenity surprise them.
For those who risk their lives each day for peace,
May their hearts glimpse providence at the heart of history.
That those who make riches from violence and war
Might hear in their dreams the cries of the lost.
That we might see through our fear of each other
A new vision to heal our fatal attraction to aggression.
That those who enjoy the privilege of peace
Might not forget their tormented brothers and sisters.
That the wolf might lie down with the lamb,
That our swords be beaten into ploughshares.
And no hurt or harm be done
Anywhere along the holy mountain.
As we go from here today may love light our way, and may the God of our hearts be with us to guide us on the path of peace.