The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Holy Communion      12th November 2017
Remebrance Sunday
Jeremy Fletcher

Remembrance Sunday 2017

The Bible is not shy of considering the affairs of nations and the ways of God. Those who exercise authority and command great forces are subject to laser sharp scrutiny. How they act, who they trust, the alliances they make, the enemies they create, the manner in which they fight, how they react in victory or defeat: all are considered, evaluated, judged. What might seem like a logical political decision to make an alliance with a friendly nation, for example, looks very different when held up to the light of God, just as history teaches us uncomfortable lessons even centuries after the events themselves

We live in turbulent times on the world stage. What will the histories in a century’s time say about 2017? What will the current processes of our democracy look like in the light of God, under the judgment of the Almighty? At least such democracy was that for which our nations fought in the Great Wars remembered today, but that does not excuse some of what happens. And if we widen our gaze just a little, people are dying every day and not too far away in conflicts in which we play a part. The Bible is not shy of considering this.

And the Bible is not shy of entering into the depths of the individual experience of conflict, especially its effect and its aftermath. Take the searing cry of the commander of the armies of Israel at the death of the commander of his enemies in a bloody civil war. Why a searing cry, not a shout of triumph? Because the King is David and the enemy commander is his son, Absalom. “Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom.” Some war memorials have combatants from both sides on them: some enemies have previously been friends; some fighters are blood relatives. Few who have been there glory at the time in victory. Death transcends war, and grief is common to us all. The searing cry of pain is at the heart of God. 

The matters we consider today are both on the great stage of world events and in the profound experience of the individual. It is one hundred years since Passchedaele, and its thousands of dead are memorialised on memorials such as ours. It was war on an industrial scale. Its commanders presided over great armies. And it contained lots of people like you and me, very young, very frightened, very determined, very ordinary. Take this extract from a letter by Private Leonard Hart to his parents in New Zealand on 19 October 1917. He is at Passchendaele

"[This was] the most appalling slaughter I have ever seen. My Company went into action 180 strong and we came out thirty-two strong."

"You can have no idea of the utter desolation caused by modern shell fire. The ground we were traversing had all been deluged with our shells before being taken from the Germans, and for those five miles leading to our front line trench there was nothing but utter desolation, not a blade of grass, or tree, here and there a heap of bricks marking where a village or farmhouse had once stood, numerous ‘tanks’ stuck in the mud, and for the rest, just one shell hole touching another."

"All my Company officers were killed outright one of them the son of the Reverend Ryburn of Invercargill, was shot dead beside me."

"Some ‘terrible blunder’ has been made. Someone is responsible for that barbed wire not having been broken up by our artillery. Someone is responsible for the opening of our barrage in the midst of us instead of 150 yards ahead of us. Someone else is responsible for those machine gun emplacements being left practically intact, but the papers will all report another glorious success, and no one except those who actually took part in it will know any different."

The Bible’s scrutiny of humanity is unceasing. Some will take decisions whose repercussions shatter nations. We have to pray for those who could press a button and bring down Armageddon. That’s a Bible word. Megiddo was a battleground, a contested piece of land in Israel where trade routes crossed. You fought over it very hard, and it became the symbol of the cataclysmic conflict to end everything. Those who can rain down Armageddon now need our trust, and our scrutiny, and need to consider their actions in the light of history and the light of God. 

Those who fought, whom we remember today, did so for great world reasons: because of justice and righteousness and freedom. And they did so for domestic and intimate and human reasons: because they had to, because of duty, because they had friends and you did things together. Friendship, honour, a sense of right, a cry for justice and fairness. Worth fighting for now. 

They fought for peace, and we should do so too. That means we should hold our leaders, our nations, ourselves, up to such scrutiny that we exhaust every avenue before armed conflict is the only option. That’s what peace makers do.

The light of history teaches us that. And the light of God requires us to do that. 

May the fallen rest in peace. And may the living honour such sacrifice with lives worthy of their very best, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

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