The last few days I’ve spoken at several remembrance services and school assemblies, in varying formats, with over 1000 people in our small bit of the world. This is what I said yesterday morning in church, or at least what I’d planned to say until someone reminded me that this weekend also marked 25 yrs since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I ended up going off on one about that for a while, but at least part of the following text was used:
When we, or anybody, tries to remember something, its essential that we do two things- we have to find its context (where it comes from) and we have to find its connection (where it touches us)- if not, it won’t make sense. This morning we’re thinking about Remembrance, and we’re using the Bible passage we just heard to help us think about the Christian response- what a faith in God helps us to say in this situation.
Remembrance is, of course, not just about remembering things- its specifically about remembering those who have fought, been wounded, suffered and died in conflicts and wars across the world. In particular this year we’re thinking of those who fought and died in WWI.
6 million British Soldiers fought in WWI which is a huge number and one we can’t really get our heads around- of those soldiers 1% suffered from shell shock, what we’d now call severe PTS, 3% became POW’s, 28% were wounded and 13% died- only half came home in one piece, but their lives were changed forever by what they had experienced.
We remember them not to honour or glorify war- what is often described as ‘the final and most desparate of political means’- when all else fails, but to honour their sacrifice, and to honour the hope that they fought for. Although wars and conflicts have continued around the world since the end of WWI- there has never been a single year of global peace, and its questionable whether there has been a single day, and yet they fought for the hope of peace and freedom. In the face of suffering and violence, hatred and fear, men and women still stand to protect ideals of peace and freedom, to protect the weak.
Why? Because of hope. Hope that one day we will bring those ideas to completion- the kind of hope that keeps you going at the beginning of a long week at work, or at the start of a massive project…
The Bible passage we heard, part of a letter written by St Paul to the church he’d founded in the city of Thessalonica- he’d only been able to stay there for 3weeks before being driven out of the city by people who disagreed with him… so it was written to a group of people in a tough place, somewhere it was really difficult to be a Christian. I’ve never lived in a country where you might lose your job or face violence just for saying that you go to church, but I remember when I was at school some people who just liked to find any excuse used to give me grief when I became a Christian in yr8- that was probably as close as I’ve ever come to the sort of situation these Christians were in… and what encouraged me was knowing as a Christian I could trust Jesus even in some tricky times… I had hope. And so Paul’s talking about how one day, even though things seem really difficult right now, it will be ok- the promise that Jesus will one day return to bring peace and justice, the promise that when we die we will have new life with God- those promises are bigger than the threats that they faced. They are bigger than any fears we might have. Paul was writing to the church in Thessalonica to give them hope. ‘Encourage one another with these words’… today those words can give us encouragement- the world is a mess, and there seems to be violence growing everywhere when you look at the news… there seems to be nothing I can do, and so I might despair… but- ultimately it will be ok- I can have hope even in the darkest of times. This was the hope that many soldiers found in the trenches of WWI and have found during conflicts and wars since then- Strong men who saw their friends suffer and witnessed terrible things came to realise that the hope, the words of the Bible, were a source of guidance, of comfort and strength.
As we read these words and others like them in the Bible, it can be a real challenge for us- these images of angels and trumpets and the dead rising and meeting Jesus in the clouds… is this accurate? I don’t know for certain, and neither did Paul. I do know that more than one writer in the Bible uses this same sort of language, but I also know that when we try to describe spiritual experiences or pictures that we feel come from God, it can be like tying down fog… the best we can do is give a loose idea. But I also know, and all of us who’ve experienced anything of the presence, the power, the love of God know this too, that its all beyond our understanding… this is no harder to understand than the idea that prayer can somehow allow me to relate to God. Everything about our faith is beyond our normal understanding- its something that gradually makes sense as we go along… but those concluding words we can hold on to- ‘we will be with the Lord forever’… so let us encourage one another.
I guess at the heart of what I’m saying to folks is that what we remember- the thing that lies behind the poppies and the parades, is more important than them. But more importantly than that, more important than the practice of remembering the sacrifice and determination of others, is to let it affect how we behave now and in the future- if their sacrifice impels me to work for peace, to grow freedom and to encourage others to stand against evil, then it has been worthwhile.