Sermon for Remembrance Sunday – by Reverend Matt Harbage
Readings: 2Thess. 3.6-13; Luke 21.6-19
Remembrance Sunday is a difficult time for many, and I include myself in that number. It brings us face to face with the suffering and death experienced by millions during the first and second world wars, – and the millions since, in wars and armed conflicts, all around our world.
It is a time to remember all combatants and all civilians, from all sides. For neither acts of bravery or courage, nor grief or loss – belongs to just one side, or nation.
I can think of no better way of remembering and showing respect for those who fought, suffered, and died than to take up the 1918 Armistice cry: “NEVER AGAIN”. We must remind ourselves of the horror of war, and commit ourselves to breaking the cycle of violence our world continues to be caught up in.
Our Gospel passage this morning teaches us that Jesus knew wars and insurrections would take place: nation against nation, territory against territory, alliance against alliance. War will happen, for war is sin, but to reduce suffering, to break the yoke of sin, to encourage peace – is that not the call of the Gospel?
In 2009, a London newspaper reflected on the recent news that Harry Patch aged 111 and Henry Allingham aged 113 had died, the final British veterans of the First World War. Before turning 100, neither men spoke of their experiences but following gentle encouragement they spoke. Mr Allingham remarked, with his small supply of breath, “War’s stupid. Nobody wins. You might as well talk first, you have to talk last anyway”.
Nobody wins. The veterans remind us that if we look back at the conflicts the UK has been engaged in with thanksgiving, it cannot be a thanksgiving for glorious victory, there is nothing so whitewashed – but rather thanksgiving the battle has ended. The tide of violence has been stemmed for a time, and peace is known once more. In those moments we pray God may grant rest to both the living and the dead. The cry is heard: Let us NEVER AGAIN descend into the horrors of war.
I suspect that most of us – perhaps all of us – come to this day with deeply personal stories which makes today hard. It might be the loss of loved ones who experienced the Blitz and its bombings at home; or it might be the loss of those who have served, or are serving, in our armed forces. I also come today with stories. Stories from friends who have served in the forces. Conversations I have had in my ministry with those affected by conflict. I feel compelled to share one of those stories, because we must not forget what armed conflict does to us and how we must learn to cry out in lament: PLEASE, NEVER AGAIN.
A few years ago when I was ministering in Liverpool, I met a Commanding Officer in the Territorial Army. He lamented with me that when his men were coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan, they would not be given enough space to decompress and adequately process the behavioural changes required from being in theatre, to being back in ordinary life.
I asked if he might share with me an example, and he told me this. Armoured vehicle drivers are trained that on driving down a residential street, where children might be out playing, they are to be mindful of what’s going on around them. If a ball should roll out into the road, they must quickly accelerate. Even if they see a child run out after it, they are not to stop, swerve or avoid. The risk of that child or that ball being a suicide bomb or decoy is too great.
A few weeks later, that same man or woman, might be driving on the streets in the UK. The same ball rolls out into the road, and the same child comes rushing after it.
This is a small part of the reality of warfare. Children become bombs, and careful drivers have to suspend their compassionate instincts. Nobody wins.
Where do we go from here? Our hearts must break. We must cry and mourn, for those whose faces have become disfigured by war. Brothers and sisters of this nation and all nations; though frequently brave and courageous, for their sake we must find ways to say – NEVER AGAIN.
Every occasion we enter church, we do so to bring ourselves and our experiences: of life, birth, death, marriage, and our relationships with one another — indeed our whole lives, to “be deepened and directed by the Spirit of Christ” as Archbishop Runcie once put it.
So as we come to our intercessions and to share in the Eucharist, let us remember the words of the Epistle reading to “not be weary in doing what is right” but instead to renew our commitment to God’s kingdom of peace: on earth, as it is in heaven.