On Sunday 11th November we had our Remembrance Service.
In this blog you will find a summary of the talk.
To listen to the talk, please click here.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marks the coming into force of the Armistice on 11th November 1919, which signaled the end of World War 1 – exactly 100 years ago today. At 11.00am on that day the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous, aggressive warfare.
This year Remembrance Day and Armistice Day fall on the same day, and this gives us an opportunity to remember those who gave their lives in both World Wars, and the many others who have given their lives to conflicts since 1945.
Many Christians struggle with the idea of Remembrance Sunday. “Why”, they ask, “Should we celebrate a day that glorifies such a destructive force as war?” However, it’s very difficult to categorize wars, saying this one is just and this one is not. Often, we just don’t know all the details, background and circumstances.
However, looking beyond the reasons for war and the political arguments out of which wars may arise, we need to recognize the ordinary people who fight, are wounded and die in war. These people gave their lives for their countries, often in the hope that by doing so they would preserve their own way of life.
From the battle of the Israelites as they sought to secure the land God had promised them to the most recent conflicts around the world, individual men and women have shown bravery, grace and compassion in the middle of some of the most horrific events anyone could ever witness. It is these people who are remembered today. Their bravery and sacrifice is what we give thanks to God for.
To be silent to remember them all for just two minutes in the course of a year seems too little in the light of such overwhelming sacrifice. What emotions of gratitude and grief, pride and perplexity, submission and sorrow fill our minds in the quiet moments of meditation; especially as memories of loved ones are stirred.
The Manchester Guardian reported on 12th November 1918 what had occurred in the first ever two-minute silence:
The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also……
Someone took off his hat…. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her tears….. everyone stood very still. The hush deepened….. and the spirit of memory brooded over it all.
And so they were silent, as they reflected on these words written by Laurence Binyon:
They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.
Flanders, the western part of Belgium, was the scene of some of the most concentrated fighting in World War One. When there was utter devastation of buildings, roads and trees, only the poppy survived. John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces, was so moved by what he saw in 1915, that he scribbled in his pocket notebook the following poem “In Flanders Fields”:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between 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 high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
Later that year the poem was published by Punch magazine, and so the poppy became the symbol of those who died in battle. Poppies grow naturally wherever soil has been disturbed. The battles fought in Belgium, and France during the First World War were so fierce that the soil was churned up. When the fighting stopped, it wasn’t long before the battlefields were covered with poppies; they bloomed, as they had never done before.
And so, since the 1920’s, people have used the poppy as a symbol to remember those who were killed in the First World War, then the Second World War and then in any war.
Battles during World War One conjure up particular details in our minds; over-the-top charges with thousands of soldiers mown down by machine guns, the carnage and the mud. In World War Two, in 1940, during the Battle of Britain, the life expectancy of a spitfire pilot was just 4 weeks, and the average age of those brave pilots was just 20 years old
While todays battlefields look very different from those of a century ago, the challenges and the sacrifices continue. We need to remember those who have fallen, as well as those affected by the terrible trauma of war.
So we rightly remember the ultimate sacrifice that so many millions have made so that we might enjoy freedom and our own way of life. However, there is another conflict we should not forget; we must not forget.
In the greatest battle ever fought, the world became completely dark for three hours, even though it was midday. All the forces of evil were let loose. The devil and his demons, the worst of humanity, and even the wrath of God against all that is rotten in the world, was focused on one man. It seemed that, yes, all hell was let loose.
It happened, not one century ago, but nearly twenty centuries ago, and today millions of people remember it not by wearing a poppy or even a cross, but by trusting in the fact that it was for them that Jesus’ body was broken and His blood poured out. His was the ultimate sacrifice. He died not for any crime that He had committed, but for us.
In those lonely hours, Jesus carried on Himself the sin of the world. He died so that we might be forgiven. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He gave Himself to death so that we might be united to the God who made us, and loves us. (Romans 5:8)
Perhaps the most well known verse in the bible emphasizes this amazing love and grace. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
We rightly remember those who gave their lives in both World Wars and the many conflicts since, but how do we honour the One who made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross? When asked a similar question, Jesus replied,
“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
God wants us to put our trust in Jesus. The risen, living Christ wants to become our Lord, Saviour and Friend.
Jesus gave up His life for us: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
He has loved us with an everlasting love, and His desire is that we should receive Him into our lives.
Christianity is not about doing our best, or even our duty. Rather it is about us turning from our sinful ways, trusting Jesus to forgive us, and surrendering to the loving Lordship of Jesus.
In God’s word, the Bible, we read that when wars and conflicts occur it is because we live in a fallen world (Fallen away from God’s will. Fallen into sin – going our own way and doing our own thing) - blighting God’s creation.
However, we also read (In Isaiah 2:4) that there is coming a time when wars will end forever, when God “will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.”
And the very last book in the bible called Revelation informs us that there will be a time when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. When there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has past away”. (Revelation 21:4)
However, until that day comes, we need to ensure that we are right with God, by accepting what Jesus did on the cross, sharing in his righteousness, and by asking Jesus to bring us to Him, knowing Him as Friend and Lord, Saviour and Helper throughout every situation that we face.
And we must continue the battle for the hearts and minds of those people who don’t yet know the love of God. We need to take every opportunity to tell and to demonstrate that Jesus loves them. How do we know that?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
1. Do you think that we should continue to have a “Remembrance Day” every year? If yes, why do you think that? If no, why do you think that?
2. Do you think that there is such a thing as a “just war”?
3. What do you think that it might have been like to be in the trenches in WW1, or perhaps a spitfire pilot in WW2?
4. In what ways, if any, is life in the armed forces different today?
5. Do you think that Jesus fought the “greatest battle ever fought”? What are your reasons for thinking the way you do?
6. Is it more difficult for you to imagine how it would have been for Jesus on the cross than how it would have been fighting on the front line during war? It what ways is it more difficult for you?
7. Do you believe that we live in a “fallen world”? It what specific ways is the world “fallen”?
8. In what way are we still in a battle?