Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love. (John 15:9)
One hundred years ago, after the initial spur of eagerness for a short, snappy war, the world woke up very suddenly to the terrible reality of large scale conflict. The world woke up to the sadness and terrors of a new age in which vast numbers of people could be killed in a very short time. The world woke but it must have felt like a nightmare for many.
|Photograph by Tobi Carver - St Ives Times & Echo|
The last line of Philip Larkin’s well-known poem MXMXIV captures this moment with dramatic accuracy saying, Never such innocence again. The Great War begun with the high hopes of patriotism, but it revealed itself as a loss of innocence for the entire human race, no matter what side of the conflict people found themselves on.
The idea of ultimate sacrifice for king and country was in many cases put to severe test, as young men kept falling in trenches and battlefields as pieces of a domino. Even the spirits of the most patriotic people took a hard battering as the nation witnessed the number of casualties rise to 888,246 over the war period; a staggering number, a statistic never seen before in the history of the human race, which rose to 1,118,760 casualties for the entire British empire, and to 17,739,896 for the all the parties involved in the war, including 7 million civilians.
A generation lost, entire communities broken to pieces by the tragedy of human hate.
Two mothers lost five sons to the war, and the sentiments of one of them made it into the history books. As Mrs Beechey was introduced to Queen Mary in 1918 who wanted to thank her personally for her immense sacrifice, Mrs Beechey replied, ‘It was no sacrifice, Ma'am, I did not give [my sons] willingly’. All this was described as tragic loss of innocence, and indeed it was.
Yet, as we know too well, the Great War was only the beginning; WW2 and other conflicts have claimed the lives of even more soldiers and countless civilians since. Indeed, over the recent years, and up to this day, war still claims the lives of our service personnel – as two weeks ago we marked the end of British operation in Afghanistan, the forces leave that country having lost 453 soldiers, one of them a true son of our town, Sgt Paul Fox.
Confronted with this much pain, by this loss of innocence, by hate, so crudely and poorly summarised, most people would want to turn away, indeed many would wish to forget all, but every year, and in particularly on this year, remembrance seems to be an important, almost a vital part of our society.
For example, only last week the organisers of the breath-taking poppy installation at the Tower of London advised the public to visit the site after Remembrance Sunday because the number of visitors was getting unmanageable – to the point that Tower Hill Tube Station closed at times to prevent overcrowding.
The nation wants to remember and remembrance can be a powerful thing.
Remembrance, a vital part of society… So why do we remember?
Remembrance has two complementary sides; the first is to call to mind the sacrifice of those who have paid the ultimate price on the battlefield. This is the type of remembrance which we do today pinning red poppies to our clothes, wearing the colours of mourning, repeating comforting words, and falling silent for some time.
However, remembrance also means working together so that the peace and freedom we enjoy because of our fallen service personnel may be preserved. They have given everything so that we may enjoy security and freedom and ultimately peace.
Let us not forget the shedding of their blood, but let us strive together to preserve and build a world of peace and equality inspired by their sacrifice; let us show our glorious dead, as it were, that their blood was not poured out in vain!
Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love.
The command we receive from Jesus – the glorious Prince of Peace – is clear; to remain in his love, forsaking hate, is the path to finding lasting peace and serenity. Indeed, if we have never experienced his love, we ought to seek it with confidence.
Abiding in Jesus, doing what he does, sacrificing ourselves for others as he does, is the only possible key to long-lasting peace.
Remember the words He says to his disciples, just before the passage of from St John’s gospel we have just heard. Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
Today’s remembrance is marked by our quiet and ceremonial honouring of the fallen on a day of mourning. Tomorrow’s remembrance, and every day remembrance, will ask us to work for peace, valuing the freedom conquered by our victims of war, and walking in the path of self-giving love traced for us by Our Blessed Lord Jesus. Let us pray,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.