On Sunday 13th November we had a remembrance Service at 9.30am and 11.15am. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
To download the talk to listen to off line, please click here.
At the start of our service we watched a Youtube clip. You can watch this by clicking here.
In the first part of the bible, which is known as The Old Testament, there is a book called Ecclesiastes. Most scholars think that it was written by King Solomon. In chapter 3 verse 1 he writes this:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” You can read this by clicking here. This past Sunday (13th November) was just such a time.
Remembrance Sunday draws human beings together in a way that is almost unique. Young and old gather to remember and reflect, each allowing some aspect of the reality of war to touch their soul. Some who gathered brought new or not so new memories of active service. Some carried in their heart the memory of a special loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Many of us stretched our imaginations to try to grasp what those people must have been feeling. All were praying that as time rolls forwards human beings would find ways of resolving their differences and repelling aggressors that does not involve warfare.
I have no personal experience of armed conflict. The little first hand knowledge that I do have comes from my parents. My mum was in the WLA – the Women’s Land Army. Truth to tell, I can’t remember much about what she told me of her exploits, working in agriculture.
My dad joined the army when he was in his late teens. He did his basic training in Maidstone near where he lived. And it was there that he met a man called Sid Stupple, and they became close friends. Sid was married to Ellen, and Ellen had four sisters.
One day, in a Nissan hut that was their sleeping quarters, Sid was showing some photographs of Ellen and her sisters, and he passed them around the hut for his mates to see. When they had been returned, he realised that one was missing. The photo of Ellen and her sister Ann. Eventually, my dad owned up that he had it. He reluctantly returned it, with the words to Sid, “that’s the woman that I’m going to marry”.
And he did! Ann of course was my mum and Sid became my uncle. Years later, when we visited the Stupples, my dad and Sid talked about many things including old army comrades, but they never talked about the fighting. Silence was the only language that could somehow do justice to the feelings and memories that they had. So that’s why I think that we can say, silence is the true language of remembrance. But there are two kinds of silence.
One is because no one wants to communicate. This is the frosty, thick, awkward, hostile, silence, which is an outward expression of irreconcilable hostility.
And it’s often a prelude to violence. Think about it, the guns and bombs begin only after the talking has stopped. Sir Winston Churchill himself said, “Jaw Jaw Jaw is better than War War War”.
The other sort of silence is calm and mutual, it is the recognition that what matters is so much more than we can ever say, and we might as well honour that fact by keeping quite for a bit.
The silence of Armistice Day – the silence of Remembrance Sunday - is that sort of silence. It is the recognition that in order to do justice to what has happened, to do justice to the cost of war – its sacrifice and despair - we don’t need to tell another story. Rather, we need to be silent together. We need to recognise that sometimes the most important thing we can do is hold our tongue.
Have you noticed this with war veterans? The important thing is not the war stories they tell but the war stories they don’t tell: the memories that are unspeakable, the experiences that can’t or shouldn’t be told.
However, while these veterans don’t want to remember or talk about some specific events, they most certainly don’t want us to forget their comrades who gave their lives for freedom and peace.
And this was Canadian surgeon John McCrae’s motivation when he wrote his famous poem In Flanders Fields in 1915 during the First World War. And because of it, the poppy has become a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by McCrae and his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts. In 1921 it was adopted by The Royal British Legion as the symbol for their ‘Poppy Appeal’, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces.
So by remembering their service and their sacrifice, we recognize the tradition of freedom these men and women fought to preserve. They believed that their actions in the present would make a significant difference for the future, but it is up to us to ensure that their dream of peace is realized.
So, we remember and we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve. And as we seek silence we remember.
Of course, Jesus knew the power of silence, and he often sought solitude. On one occasion, when he was told that his friend and relative John (the Baptist) had been beheaded, Jesus withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matthew 14:12-13) You can read this by clicking here.
Jesus also knew the power of remembrance when, on the night he was betrayed by Judas, he took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25) You can read this by clicking here.
Jesus told us to remember the great sacrifice that he made for each and every one of us so that we could have life to the full; now and for all eternity.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
It is our duty to ensure that those who have given their life, their health, and their youth, in the cause of peace are honoured and remembered. But in our remembering we must also vow to give all that we can for the good of humanity, especially for the generations yet to come; who will themselves one day stand in silent remembrance.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your small group)
1. What is your view about Remembrance Sunday? After all, World Wars 1 & 2 were a long time ago……
2. If you answered that we should continue to remember those who lost their lives during combat, what are your reasons?
3. If your view is that it was all a long time ago, and we should now move on, explain why you think that.
4. Do you have any personal experience of armed conflict, or any knowledge from parents or grandparents?
5. What is your opinion of armed conflict? Is it ever justified?
6. Is being silent something that you practice? If yes, what are the benefits? If no, is it something that you might try?
7. What images does John McCrae’s poem evoke for you?
8. Given that Jesus’ time on Earth was short (and he knew this), why do you think he spent so much time alone?
9. What part can you play to ensure peace on Earth?