How wonderful it is to remember – that “God is our refuge and strength – a very present help in trouble.” The ability to remember is a wonderful gift that God has given to us. In a flash you can be a child again, skimming rocks across a pond, or walking in a meadow. Many of us can recall the time when we fell in love, got married, had children all over again. You can remember – because those memories are fixed in your mind. And time cannot rob you of those so long as your memory continues to function.
Some of our memories are happy, and we can recall wonderful experiences. But some of our memories are sad and we may weep. The problem, though, is that sometimes memory fails us. Sometimes we forget. I think that our annual Remembrance Sunday Service is one of the most important services in the Christian calendar, after Christmas and Easter. Because it helps us not to forget why we have the freedom that we enjoy today. It reminds us that the peace that we have enjoyed for nearly 75 or so years here in Great Britain was not bought cheaply. And it gives us an opportunity to say “Thank you” for the sacrifice that so many made, with their lives, with their scars of war in order that we in the United Kingdom can enjoy peace
Some of you may still have vivid memories of the war – and of fallen comrades and friends In war many people found their faith – others lost it.
In a second hand bible were written some words, it was obviously very meaningful to the previous owner, an elderly lady because she had specially typed it out on a piece of paper. She had written as follows: The following lines were discovered on the dead body of an American soldier killed in action in North Africa, in 1944. They were found by a corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps and were printed in a Tunis newspaper. They found their way to Britain via the United States. A friend of the writer of these lines, who was with him when they were written (and who survived the battle in which the writer was killed) said the soldier was a thoroughly wild character, but there were tears running down his face as he wrote the following lines.
“Look, God, I have never spoken to you,
And now I want to say: “ How do you do?”
You see, God, they told me you didn’t exist,
And I, like a fool, believed all this.
Last night, from a shell hole, I saw your sky,
And I figured then they had told me a lie.
I wonder, God, if you’d take my poor hand?
Somehow I feel you would understand.
Strange I had to come to this hellish place
Before I had time to see your face.
Well, I guess there isn’t much more to say:
But I’m glad, God, that I met you today
The zero hour will soon be here
But I’m not afraid; because you are near.
The signal has come, I shall soon have to go
I like you lots – this I want you to know.
I am sure this’ll be a horrible fight:
Who knows? I may come to your House tonight.
Though I wasn’ t friendly to you before,
I wonder, God, if You’d wait at Your door?
Look, I’m shedding tears, me shedding tears!
Oh! How I wish I’d known you those long, long years
Well, I have to go now, dear God. Goodbye
But now that I’ve met you, I’m not scared to die.”
As we remember in this Service today – the cost to millions of our servicemen and women – of that peace that we enjoy today – may I ask you to think remember further back – to the man who hung on a Cross – so that we may have our peace with God today. Thank God that we don’t have to go “to that hellish place” that that young American Soldier wrote about before he had “time to see God’s face” Jesus gave us two great rules to govern life in our society.
The first was this. To “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt 22:37) and the second was to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:39) Let us go from this Remembrance Day service resolved to make these the goal of our lives: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God” (Mt 5:9) Let us continue to build on the sacrifice of those who laid down their lives for our country. Let us leave it a better place – for our having been here.
It’s very daunting for me to stand and preach on this day of all days. The closest I’ve come to living through a war is seeing it on the television, Yet, today is still desperately important. Many of us were not around sixty and more years ago, as others of you have been. For our young people in High School, the first Gulf War of 1991 is something that they read about in history books, and yet there are still a number of veterans of that war and our previous World Wars still alive. Remembrance, if it is anything, must be comprehensive. Our remembrance is not just that of the two world wars, or of the countless other conflicts that have gone on around the world. Our remembrance goes beyond that, as we also remember emergency services (fire brigades, police, ambulance staff), support services, such as the many chaplains to forces, and not least the millions of civilians who died as a result of war and terrorism.
It has been said that people are the sums of their memories. Today is, in part, the memories that we bring with us. Some of you bring memories of active service. Some of you bring memories of those whom you have loved and lost. Some of you bring memories of civilian life during wartime. Some of you bring a long commitment to peace and working for peace. Each of us brings different memories and thoughts to our act of Remembrance, which helps to make it more comprehensive.
We are here to remember all those people, of whatever country, who have died in the pursuit of freedom and good. We are here to give thanks to God for their lives given for the freedom of many countries around the world. We are here to acknowledge publicly and before God that countless people have given their lives for us, for our freedom and for others and their freedom. We are here to pray for all who suffer and have suffered as a result of war. Particularly those of us who, like me, are too young to remember war, need to remember that many gave their today for our tomorrow.
Whenever there is a war or conflict we are usually hopeful that it will be the last, that there will be no more war. But we are not free from war and the pain of war. Our purpose today is to acknowledge that pain and to remember it, but also to thank God for the freedom that so many now enjoy because of the laying down of life by so many for this and many other countries and to pray for peace. We thank God for those who laid down their lives for others, as John’s gospel talked about. We acknowledge the example of Jesus in laying down his life for others.
It would be a mistake for us to think that remembrance is simply about the past, about what has happened. Our remembrance is not simply something in the past, but something that we make present here and now as we realise the significance for each of us. Whoever, whatever, wherever our thoughts turn to, today we acknowledge love laying down its life for others and we recognise that there is no greater thing that one can do than loose one’s life for the benefit of others, for freedom and liberty.
Sadly, we take the sacrifice of the many men and women who served in the Forces for granted. We too easily forget the price they paid for the peace and freedom we enjoy today. I think Remembrance Sunday is one of the most important services in the Christian year – a time when we stop to “remember them” I am not old enough to remember the Second World War – I was born thirteen years after it ended.
How true it is. Remembrance Sunday is not just a reminder of those who died in the First and Second World Wars – important as they were. It is also a reminder of other conflicts that our armed services have been in. The ability to remember is a wonderful gift that God has given to mankind. Some of our memories are happy and we can recall wonderful experiences. But some of our memories are sad and we may weep as we remember them.
The First World War ended 102 years ago
The Second World War ended 75 years ago
Yet despite the passage of time, it is still vitally important – yes, it is right – that we remember that many still bear the scars of was today. And it is good for us to remember those who have fought for their country, to support them and to pray for them.
Today is a day when we say “Thank you” to all those who made the sacrifice that we can stand here today in peace and freedom. We may even remember the names of those who died this morning. But we must not forget those who are still suffering as a result of these wars. And not only can we remember but we can practically respond to the retiring collection being taken as you leave this morning for the Erskine who having been caring for our servicemen and women since 1916.
As we stand in our parish church today, these thoughts of sacrifice should bring us back to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us all on the battlefield of Calvary. St. John put it well when he said: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) Jesus gave his life not only for his friends but also for his enemies.
Jesus had no need to experience human suffering but he did for all our sakes. Man’s evil –that’s basically what we call sin – has separated us from God. Jesus died to reconcile us to God, by dying in our place. This reconciliation is a gift that we can receive simply by asking Christ to come into our lives.