Remembrance Sunday 2011
The Reverend Charles Royden
Today is a day of remembrance and thanksgiving for those who have been involved in war
We think of World War 1, the war to end all wars, then World War 2, but we also think of conflicts since. The recent posting of Prince William to the Falklands reminds us of that conflict, we also think of Iran and Afghanistan which is ongoing and which claims the lives of our soldiers continually. Also of course the recent actions in Libya.
There is some disagreement over the more recent conflicts, were the outcomes and motives good enough to justify the losses of human life involved ? However there should be no hesitation in recognising the sacrifice of those in our armed forces who act on the instruction of our democratic government, regardless of the danger into which they are placed on our behalf. Whilst we are able to get on with our lives and enjoy peace with our families, they face daily danger separated from their loved ones.
Inevitably at this time of year we also remember all of those who have gone before us. Some died after peaceful long lives for which we give thanks, others died after their own battles perhaps against dreadful diseases which claimed their lives.
This is a time of year in which it is right to remember. I was speaking with a practicing pagan last week and asked them how they celebrated their New Year which falls on the 1 November. I suppose I had visions of orgies in woods and midnight séances. My prejudices were exposed when I heard about their family meal at which they recite memories of loved ones who have died and an empty place is set as a memory that their spirit lives on. Of course such a practice should not have surprised me because it was we Christians who took over such practices and made them a part of our own tradition.
Remembering those who have died is important and a shared human experience, giving thanks and showing our respect for our war veterans is essential. There is a clearly a growing national sense of pride and debt shown towards those who pay a heavy price for their bravery in performing their duties in service for their country.
I was at the memorial service outside Boots in the town centre and I was pleased at the silence which was achieved this year at the ceremony at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In years past people seemed to shop on oblivious, but increasingly there is a much larger crowd and the quiet respectful dignity of the event was unbroken this year.
This year Wootton Bassett became Royal Wootton Bassett as the Queen recognised the example which had been set by the residents who stood silently and observed respectfully the repatriation of UK military personnel killed in war which has been taking place since 2007. The ceremony, never formally organised, was repeated 167 times, for the return of 345 bodies. It grew and grew: the church bell tolled, the flag was lowered, and soon families of the bereaved, along with many curious visitors, were travelling to join the townspeople, until thousands lined the streets each time.
David Cameron said
"From the trenches of the first world war to the desert of Afghanistan, our armed forces have proved time and again that they are the bravest of the brave and the very best of what it means to be British. We can never fully repay the debt we owe them."
I don't know what you thought but I was pleased that these words were given some credence perhaps at the announcement that soldiers are to go to the top of the social housing waiting list under plans being developed by ministers.
It is right that we gather in this service and we stand as we remember those who fell, and we give thanks for all those who will also carry wounded minds and bodies for many years after they have left the battlefield.
The defence secretary Philip Hammond was in Afghanistan for this Remembrance Day. He said: 'The ceremonies that we will have across Britain on Remembrance Sunday are not just about the war dead from the first and second world wars or even conflicts we've had since but this is about the ongoing sacrifice that people here are making on a daily, weekly basis, that they all live with every day.'
There have now been 385 deaths among UK personnel since the war began.
No surprise therefore about the national outrage when England football squad were told that they could not wear poppies at Wembly. Having won that battle, the FA has announced that it will be donating the training tops, national anthem jackets and armbands embossed with the poppy worn by the England senior squad to The Royal British Legion to auction and raise further funds for this year's Poppy Appeal. So look out on Ebay !
Of course these values which we recognise are shared, in America there is Veterans Day and across the nations of the commonwealth and the world there is a day in which nations remember the horror and the sacrifice of war and the selfless sacrifice of those who died.
This is not at any time to glorify war which must only ever be regarded as a tragic waste of human resources and human life. If ever we take up arms we should do so in sorrow not anger and if we are victorious in war there should be no rejoicing, only bitter regret that such a costly victory be called for. That is why it is so important that we hear the scriptures and the exhortations made for peace. Today we heard read to us the words of Micah and his beautiful vision – the day when peace will replace warfare and swords will be made into ploughs.
Of course ultimate peace and justice and joy will come only at the end of time in the Kingdom of God. But that doesn’t mean that we sit back and wait. Now we must be working for peace.
In the words of Mahatma Ghandi,
“Peace is not something that you wish for. It is something that you make,
something that you do, something that you are, something that you give away.”
If we really want to honour those who died in war, then we must set ourselves the task of building a more peaceful loving world for our children and generations to come. You and I may never be called to engage in war but we are each one of us obliged to work for peace, to turn swords into ploughshares.
The heart of the gospel is a call to change from thinking about ourselves, and a call to sacrificial living for others as a way of demonstrating our love for God. Jesus went to great lengths to show that this was something to which every person was called. Everybody has a talents and gifts which are to be used by God and not just buried away. We can all do our bit of peacemaking. It is easy to come to church and sing songs and say prayers, but the real work of being God’s soldiers takes places as we go out into the world and seek to make change.
We have been working our way through Matthew Chapter 25 recently and it is all about being God’s people, being prepared and living our lives as though God might come to us at any minute and ask us to give an account of ourselves.
If we had not had the Remembrance Sunday readings today we would have had the Gospel reading about the parable of the talents, using all that God has given us to make a difference. Next week is the parable of the sheep and goats and somebody else will have the good fortune to be able to preach on that. It is a fantastic passage which speaks of God rewarding faithful people who saw Christ
- hungry and gave him something to eat,
- thirsty and gave him something to drink,
- a stranger and they invited him in,
- naked and they clothed him
- sick and they looked after him
- in prison and they went to visit him
There are many remarkable things about the story, just one of which is that those who God rewards never thought they were doing anything for Jesus at all. They just lived special lives of consideration for others. God rewards them because - what we do for the least of others, we do for him.
This day we pay our respects to those who have shown the great values of honour, integrity and sacrifice of themselves for others. As we do this, we do well to remind ourselves that we are called to live like this ourselves every day. We may not be called to carry firearms, but we are expected to take up the fight against injustice and to work for peace and this is how we respond to God’s love for us shown in Christ.
Salvation is given by God in the story not to those who profess faith, but rather to those who live out lives which reflect God’s grace and love. What really matters is how we behaved when we thought God was not around. We are called to look at each other and see Christ. We might not do very well, we might make mistakes, but we need to be encouraged to try.
The third servant in the parable of the talents was considered worthless not because he wasted the talent. He didn’t lose it he just wasted it by not using it. The servant might have tried to justify his actions by all manner of plausible excuses,
- I’m not very good
- There are others who are so much better than me
Some of them might have seemed ever so humble, yet they all amount to failure to try. I suppose that this is why I can't join in criticism of those folks who are camped on the steps of St Paul’s. They appear pretty clueless, yet they are at least trying to bring change to society in the face of some pretty shocking things which are going on. Not least is the fact that many ordinary people have lost thousands of pounds of their savings when the banks collapsed and now those same banks owned by the people who lost their money are paying out huge bonuses to a few privileged ones at the top.
Clearly the protestors are confused about what to do, but at least they are doing something, and they might rightly say to those who criticise, 'well what are you doing?' At the end of the day, they are using what talents they have. It has to be said that they have also brought about some change. Since the resignation of the rev Dr Giles Fraser the tide has turned even in the Church and senior Anglican clerics have been falling over themselves to deliver sermons condemning those who have grown rich at the expense of the poor.
Archbishop Sentamu condemned Chief Executives of the FTSE 100 companies that last year received average pay increases of almost 50 percent. Typically these CEOs receive 300 times as much as the least well paid British employees in their companies.
‘If they have a responsibility to their staff, it is hard to imagine a more powerful way of telling some people that they are of little value than to pay them one-third of one percent of your own salary. Top pay has been found to bear little or no relation to company performance, but even if it did, isn’t the performance of a company dependent on the work and wellbeing of all its staff? Among the ill effects of very large income differences between rich and poor are that they weaken community life and make societies less cohesive. If the concept of the “Big Society” is to become a reality, so that people come to know and take more care of each other, income differences must surely be reduced. No one wants a ‘dog eat dog’ society in which people feel obliged simply to fend for themselves. ’
I believe that such a statement resonates powerfully on Remembrance Sunday, listen to those words again
‘No one wants a ‘dog eat dog’ society in which people feel obliged simply to fend for themselves. ’
Today we remember those who supremely gave of themselves in military service to fend for others. They are an example to us that we must use our talents to serve God by serving others. Amen