Saturday, November 13, 2010

Remembrance Sunday

I'm grateful to colleagues on the PRCL site, in particular Anne LeBas, for thoughts, words and more help than it's comfortable to admit to....I really struggle with preaching on Remembrance Sunday, and this year seems particularly impossible...

God is light and in him is no darkness

Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry. Just a few weeks ago I conducted the funeral of a lady whose earliest memories included being taken outside by her parents one bitterly cold night to watch the city burn....miles and miles away, but somehow very close to home as she huddled in her nightclothes and watched that silent, sinister firework display. The flames of the city illuminated the reality of war, there, on the doorstep – interrupting ordinary lives, changing the world forever for people who had never signed up, people who wanted nothing more than to carry on as usual...people like us.

Fast forward to just one month ago in this church (All Saints church) when, on an evening entitled “Faith under Fire”,we heard from two clergy – one an army chaplain, one a parish priest, - about the impact of war today. The chaplain told us about conducting a wedding for a young man before he went out to Helmund province.....then conducting his funeral just three months later. It made the cost of war feel very real – even here amid the tranquility of the Gloucestershire countryside. Once again the reality of war was illuminated, brought close to home...inescapable, non negotiable.

So I found myself reflecting on the change that has taken place during my life time. When I was growing up, each year the veterans marching past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday got noticeably older until the last WW1 veterans disappeared and their place was taken by the veterans from the 2nd WW...For a while, there was a feeling that remembrance might not be necessary for too much longer.....that when the last survivors of the second world war died, the custom of remembering our war dead might die with them. It was too long ago and far away, no longer part of our daily world.

Then, of course, everything changed.
Today there will be young men marching past the who have seen active service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yesterday I had lunch with a clergy friend......she was slightly late and apologised for this because, she said, she had been seeing a wedding couple. Nothing unusual there – til she told me that they were anxious to get married immediately because the groom, aged 19,was about to go to Afghanistan.
Once again, it brought reality home to me.

We know about the boy soldiers of the 1st World War...the hundreds who falsified birth dates to meet the minimum age requirements. A sixteen year-old later told of how he was able to join the army: "The recruiting sergeant asked me my age and when I told him he said, 'You had better go out, come in again, and tell me different.' I came back, told him I was nineteen and I was in."
Another, John Cornwell was just sixteen when he won the Victoria Cross for bravery. Cornwall was on board the
Chester when it was attacked by four German light cruisers. Within a few minutes the Chester received seventeen hits. Thirty of her crew were killed in the bombardment and another forty-six were seriously wounded. Cornwall remained at his post on one of the ship's guns until the attack was over, but later died of his wounds.

Thankfully, 16 year olds are no longer able to bluff their way onto the battlefield – but 19 is not so very much older...Just think. A levels one month, basic training and mobilization the next.

War isn't something long ago or far away...

Today we are here to remember.
Re- membering is the way in which we bring the past into the present, reunite the pieces of broken history and learn their lessons.
Or not.
The choice is ours.

You'll know the proverb “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” and as we gather to remember, that opportunity is ours.

     The light of the bombed cities can clarify things for us, too, if we will let it,    and we can set against its harsh glare another, gentler light.
Of course, war is not simple. There is no easy solution to it. Sometimes justice and peace seem to be mutually exclusive...but when ethics fail us, we can still stand for hope.
The truth is that if ordinary people like us don’t think about war, care about its impact, and do what we can to counter the conditions which give rise to it, then the peace that we long for will never come to pass. We are called to play a part in building God’s kingdom of peace, close to home, through the words we speak to one another, the care we take of one another, by rejecting suspicion and hatred, by daring to take the risk of love.

Today we remember. We remember those who have been crushed under the
heap of heartache that is war, and those who are being crushed under it still.
We allow the reality of war to come home to us, so that peace can come
home to us too and take root in our lives. And as we do that, the promise of
God is that the tiny lights which our small acts represent become part of that great light that no darkness can put out.
God is light and in him is no darkness...

There is another way, and by God's grace we will find it – so that we no longer have to watch youthful veterans march past the Cenotaph as we gather to remember.

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