A sermon/reflection for Remembrance Sunday 14th November 2021
May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Sixteen years ago, in a service I held at the Cassino War Cemetery on behalf of the National Council of the Royal British Legion Annual Pilgrimage in 2001 to Italy South, I met an elderly lady who had regularly made the British Legion Pilgrimage to Italy continuously for 39 years in honour of her husband who died in the Allied invasion of South Italy in 1945. She walked on the well mown grass along the rows of white gravestones, holding on to the hands of her son. Her son told me that he didn’t think her mother would be able to make the pilgrimage again, that probably that would be her last.
I will never forget that meeting! It brought home to me the devastating nature of war that simply shatters and tears apart lives and loved ones for years and years. Along with remembering the dead and wounded, it’s also about all those broken lives, broken families, orphaned children, widowed spouses. No words can fully describe the horror that war brings on humanity.
The poppy that we all wear today is a symbol of reflection and hope.
The First World War caused widespread devastation to areas of Northern France and Belgium, but the poppy flowered every year bringing colour and hope to the devastated landscape. Colonel John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces, was deeply moved by what he saw and, inspired by the poppies, wrote the poem “In Flanders’ fields.’
Col McCrae died in a military hospital on the French coast shortly after writing his poem, but it was published in Punch magazine, showing the world what conditions on the battlefields were like. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month in 1918 the First World War ended.
Today we have an opportunity to plant a poppy around the memorial in remembrance, not just of those who died in the First World War, but those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and have given their lives in conflicts since that time, so that we might experience freedom and peace.
Memories prolong the life of a person. When we don’t remember someone, it is as if that person has died twice. That is why today we want to “remember” all those who gave their lives that we might live. We remember the fallen, as well as wounded, men and women of the two great wars, but also all other wars and even the present ones.
Remembrance was placed on the national school curriculum by the government about 13 years ago after lobbying from the RBL
World War II veteran Len Jeans who (was 83 years old then) had fought in France and the Netherlands, was one of the many veterans who visited schools on behalf of the RBL. He said: “All children should have the chance to meet a war veteran while we are still all around. I would hate to think that when we’re all gone the sacrifices we made will be forgotten and Remembrance Day will simply fizzle out.”
The 13 year old Rebecca of Highland School in Enfield, London who listened to Mr. Jeans that day said “My friends and I were all moved by what we learned,” she said. “It is so important young people learn about the horrors of war. We are the future. “We can’t let the mistakes of the past be repeated again and again.”
Some years ago the BBC carried a story about the oldest war veterans and former enemies who become friends. The oldest British WWI veteran at the time and his German counterpart were introduced to each other for the first time. Henry Allingham – the UK’s oldest man at the time, he was 110, and the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland – met Robert Meier, 109, in Witten, near Dortmund.
The men greeted each other warmly and laid a wreath at the WWI memorial near Witten’s town hall. Mr Meier said it was “amazing” that they were “both still alive”.
He was Germany’s oldest man having fought at the Western Front in France in 1916. He said: “It is so good to see people happy to see us here together. Why did we have to have a war? “Why can’t we all be friends?”
Similarly, Mr Allingham, who said he was “very happy” to meet his German counterpart a former enemy, said: “No man who knows war wants war again. I want to forget it.”
In the two great wars we fought against imperialism and totalitarian ideologies. Today it is not imperialism, it is not Nazism – it is terrorism and fundamentalism wherever they come from. Our men and women who died are not dying in vain. They are making the ultimate sacrifice for us –
that we can walk down our street safely to buy a newspaper or bread;
that we can take our kids to school without fear;
that we can board our trains, our planes, our buses without having to look back or to the side;
that we can profess our faith and not be ashamed of the signs and symbols of our faith.
As Christians when we celebrate Holy Communion (or The Mass or The Eucharist as it is also called) and share the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we remember that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice of love for us when he was killed on the cross and shed his blood for us that we might live. We also believe that Jesus rose victorious in glory from the dead. We too, therefore, have a firm hope amidst our afflictions and our sorrows. He died that we might live. “I am the resurrection and the life” he said, “he who believes in me, though he dies, will live forever.”
Today he tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”
When we reconcile conflicts,
when we make peace with one another,
when we share peace with each other,
when we make peace and not war,
when we are peace-makers and not warmongers,
we shall be called children of God.
To be a peacemaker today is not an option – it is a responsibility if we want to leave something of the world we have enjoyed to our children and grandchildren.
The other day my wife and I visited the International Bomber Command Memorial at Canwick, not just the latest addition to the Lincoln skyline but an outstanding national and international centre of pilgrimage and reflection to remember our heroes especially the 58,000 who gave their life for the freedom we take for granted today.
On this day in memory of those fallen men and women of various wars, and in memory of the war veterans who are with us, and in memory of our valiant sons and daughters who paid the ultimate price, let us resolve to build a better and safer world for all by committing ourselves to be peacemakers as children of God, brothers and sisters and heirs of His Kingdom of peace and justice. And we tell them again with affection and with gratitude: we thank you! We think of you! We love you and above all, we remember you!
[The Revd Dr ST Mattapally, Rector,, Springline Parish]