Remembrance and Resurrection
Our Service of Remembrance is held to mark the end of World War I when the armistice was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was a war of such magnitude and suffering that over 15 million people lost their lives and it was known as the war to end all wars. But of course wars have continued.
In World War II, the war known as the deadliest military conflict in history, over 60 million people lost their lives of which just under a million were from this country. We know that if it wasn’t for those who fought and for those who gave their lives that our lives would be very different to what they are today. The conflicts, of course, haven’t ended, they have continued. Since 1948, over 16,000 service men and women have given their lives on behalf of this country and they are commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
This year we commemorate and remember the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme, fought from 1st July to 18th November 1916, 141 days of horror. During this time there were over 1 million casualties amongst all forces. British and Commonwealth troops lost 125,000 young men during those 141 days. In the first day of the Battle 100,000 allied troops went out of their trenches only to be repelled by German machine gun fire where over 19,000 men lost their lives. The BBC reports that when the battle ceased due to harsh winter conditions ‘the British had advanced just seven miles and failed to break the German defence. In March 1917, the Germans made a strategic retreat to the Hindenburg line rather than face the resumption of the Battle of the Somme’.
In August 1916 when news of the horror reached home memorial shrines with crosses were built on street corners to record the names of all who had gone out to serve in war, not knowing who would come back and they became places of prayer for those men.
Today in the 150 acres of the National Arboretum there are over 300 memorials to those who have given their life or served in conflict so that we may know the freedom we have. They are the names of ordinary young men and women who were called to be brave and courageous, to be bold and to be strong, in a world that suffers from conflict even today. How important it is for us to remember the horrors of war and to honour the fallen. Each stone we have placed on this memorial is in memory of someone who suffered because of conflict. The toll and impact of conflict, of leaders seeking power over others, of those who would seek to become free of oppression, is enormous.
It seems to be very difficult for us to follow Christ’s clear commandments to love God, love one another and to love our enemies.
The centre piece of the National Arboretum is the remarkable Armed Forces Memorial which has the names of all service personnel who have lost their lives since the end of World War II in over 50 conflicts around the world. Every year since 1945 has names listed of those who have given their life in conflict, but the panels that are most striking are the ones that are empty, these are the panels made ready for the names in future years of those who will lose their lives in conflict that are yet to happen. They are shocking because they have been prepared with the assumption that conflicts will not end and that many more young people will lose their lives. It’s a chilling thought.
The memorials recognise the courage and bravery and boldness of many who have served their country from the Bastion and Basra memorial wall to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment memorial and to the Church lads and Church girls brigade memorial
It is the personal stories that bring home to us the sacrifice of young lives, many of whom are in our own families and how important it is to be able to share those stories so that we never forget. We have heard this morning of the story of Private Frank Elsewood and the poem written by 9 year old Jodie Johnson. There are other personal stories.
Footballer Alan, a Reading and Aston Villa star striker was killed on the Somme at the age of 29 after being shot in the abdomen and arm.
Oliver an Isle of Man TT winner shot down and killed in his plane over the Somme. His body was never found.
Derek maimed by an anti-tank mine in Afghanistan
Daniel a young bugler sounded the charge at the Somme and rose onto the battlefield with 700 of his friends and colleagues when 8 out of 9 of them lost their life, including Daniel.
Rusty flew a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, the last line of defence this country had in World War II, when he lost his life after his plane was shot down. His body remained undiscovered for 30 years.
Tara suffered head injuries and badly damaged eyes after a bomb blast in Northern Ireland which killed some of her comrades.
Simon was trying to rescue 6 comrades under fire when he was hit in the face in Basra, Iraq, seriously injuring him.
There is a story for each person that has lost their life or has been seriously injured in conflict. They are stories of comradeship, of colleagues supporting each other, looking out for each other in the horror and ugliness of war and grieving together with the family and friends, when one is lost.
In all of this we can feel the heart of God groaning and breaking as he sees the sacrifice of those he loves. God came and lived amongst us as the man Jesus Christ so that we could know who God truly was through his Son and to receive his message of how to live our lives in goodness, not ugliness and horror; to live our lives in faith, in love and in hope. Christ wept when his friends died and he gave his own life so that the impact of evil would never again separate us from the love of God, even though some die in conflict.
Joshua (Joshua 4:1-9) comes into the Promised Land with the people of Israel after many years in the desert and after many years of suffering in slavery in Egypt and they are carrying the Ark of the Covenant the place where God comes to them. Joshua marks the event and marks the fulfilment of God’s promise, his covenant, with stones taken from the river Jordan and he does this so that they will remember this event and that their children will remember this event. The saving by God from slavery and from a wilderness sacrifice to live a better life.
In the same way our memorials help us to remember the sacrifice of those who have given their lives so that we may live in peace.
It is this message of peace and reconciliation and the knowledge of God’s love that Christ wants us to know in our world, how important that we as a Church are able to live and spread this word. But like going into battle, it requires courage and boldness and strength from us. The disciples of Jesus were sent out amongst the wolves to proclaim God’s peace, they had nothing with them except the blessing of Jesus Christ and they entered a war zone where they were welcomed as friends or sent away as enemies. We are disciples of Christ today, our Christian life is so important to the world, the message of Christ is transformational and is welcomed by some and resisted and even attacked by others. But we have been given something special when we commit our lives to Christ, he brings us the privilege of prayer, he brings us the privilege of working for his peace changing attitudes and transforming lives and he give us an eternal life. We have all of this through the sacrifice of Christ which we remember every week all around the world through the most important memorial that of Holy Communion.
We break and share bread as a reminder that Christ gave his life for us so that we can know God’s love in a powerful and transformative way. The 2 people on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:28-35) saw the resurrected Jesus Christ and knew that God had fulfilled his covenant to save his people from the evil in the world, especially the evil of death. We in turn are empowered to bring that transforming love to others.
As we remember the horrors of war and the personal sacrifice of many, we come to remember the sacrifice of Christ so that we may have freedom to know God in our lives and to bring his transforming love and power into our world. What a responsibility and honour we have, so as we remember let us reflect on our own lives and the mission we have been given by our Saviour Jesus Christ and continue to pray and to act to remove conflicts from our lives, our communities and our world. Amen.