Monday, 9 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday

This sermon was preached on Remembrance Day 2014, 100 years after the start of WWI. It was a family service. Many of the children had been given a large cardboard poppy with the name of one of the men from the parish who died in WWI or WWII.

I've always found Remembrance Sunday a difficult service - I guess it's supposed to be. I was struck that year of the rhetoric being used by people such as Michael Gove to seemingly glorify WWI, alongside a surge of posts on social media from groups such as Britain First and other far right organisations laying claim to the war-dead in order to pursue their own morally repugnant agenda. I found that very worrying, given the significance of the year.

The readings were Isaiah 2:1-4 and John 15:9-17.

How old will you be in four years? Where do you think you’ll be? 

Does that seem a long way away for you? Maybe you’ll be in a new school? Or a new job? Perhaps there’ll be all sorts of new people in your life you don’t yet know.

Do you remember what you were doing this time four years ago? There’s no-one else in this room that I knew four years ago; Jen and I didn’t even live in Flixton then.  Neither did Reverend Vicky, come to think of it. 

A lot can change in four years.

Today, we’re remembering the end of both World Wars, and all those wars that have happened since, and we’re thinking about those men, women and children who have died as a result of those wars. It feels a little strange though, doesn’t it, that we’re remembering the end, and hoping and praying for the end to all war, in a year that marks 100 years since the beginning of that first world war?

If that war had started this year, it would not be finished for four more long years. And then, in another 21 years’ time, there’d be another even longer, more horrible war.

Except, very, very few of us now are remembering any of those who died in WWI. How can we? We’d need to be at least 96 years old to have ever met someone who died in that war, and even then, we’d have been so young we likely would not recall having known them at all. 

Some people, in their seventies, eighties or nineties, might remember people who died in WWII, but that too is a memory that is fading in our national consciousness.

Every year, though, we promise “We will remember them”. 

Remembering is hard.

It’s hard enough with people and things we know and have experienced. Jen will tell you, I’m rubbish at remembering to do the dishes, or put away the clean-washing. As a child, and teenager, I used to be awful at remembering to tidy my room. 

That’s why we give ourselves a helping hand, with signs to help us remember. You might not have ever tied a knot in a handkerchief, or tied a piece of string around your finger, or even written a note on the back of your hand? If not, I bet you’ve set a reminder on your phone, or asked someone to prompt you by reminding you of a certain word later in the day.

We need signs to help us remember; especially for those things and people we’ve learnt about, rather than things we’ve experienced and people we’ve known. 

Most of us are wearing one of those signs today; and some of us even have a larger one, with the name of one of the war-dead from this parish on it; the poppy – a reminder of the fields where the dead from the wars are buried. When we see our poppy, and others wearing theirs, it helps us to stop and think about the people all over the world who have died as a result of war.

It’s not a sign of heroism, sacrifice, or even respect for the dead; though all of those things come into it. Many of those who died were heroic, and many were ordinary people, like us, but in the wrong place. In the wrong time.

The poppy is a sign of remembrance, of thousands of people, just like us, who have died as a result of war.

I hope it can also be a sign to help us to remember the words we heard today from Isaiah too where the prophet talks about his vision of how God wants life to be:

Wouldn’t it be good if when we hear those words, instead of trying to remember what a plowshare looked like, or what on earth a pruning hook was for, we had to ask someone what a spear was, or what you used a sword to do?

Wouldn’t it be good if we did not learn war any more

Can our poppies, that remind us of the war graves, and these poppies, with the name of a soldier who died fighting in a war to end all wars stir us into striving for peace?

A lot can change in four years. Over the next four years, throughout the centenary of the First World War, let us honour all those who have died in war, and change the world around us by working for peace

Let us love one another, as Christ has loved us; a fitting, and holy act of remembrance.


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