Remembrance Day
 
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(A Sermon, given at Upavon on Remembrance Sunday, 9th November 2003,  adapted from one given in Milton Lilbourne on 14th November 1999)

Remembrance Day

Earlier this year my family celebrated my 20th. birthday - fourth time round. I now pay for my television what I think most of it is worth, and I have far more yesterdays than I have tomorrows.

Like other people of my age, I have many memories and am inclined to bore younger people with them.

During the past ten years or so there have been several television programmes about the wars of the last century. These have varied from John Wayne winning battles in the Pacific, the privations of the London Blitz, and harrowing pictures of the holocaust and so on.

I find it relatively easy to learn more about the Boer War. I have no personal connection with that bit of history. It is less easy to watch details of the 1914-18 war - my father fought and suffered in that war. I was born only five years after it ended. That war was a gross example of civilisation’s stupidity. That was a war in which there was wholesale and mindless slaughter in the trenches and elsewhere. My childhood was in some way affected by my father’s ordeal.

It requires more resolve for me to watch programmes about the 39-45 war through which I lived and which, by the providence of Almighty God, I managed to survive.

When you have lost comrades, friends or relatives; when your friends have told you of experiences in Changi gaol or in other Japanese torture camps; When you have heard at first hand the experiences of former prisoners of war in Germany and Poland; when you can actually remember reading in the papers of the liberation of Belsen, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and other horrors, and seeing pictures of those tortured to death and near death;

When you recall being thankful that you had heard the bang and were still in one piece; when you hear of the atrocities committed not only by the enemy but by your Russian allies, not only as acts of uncontrolled vengeance, but by an ogre called Stalin against his own people; when you realise that all this happened in your time, you are aware that this is not just history. Much less is it entertainment.

Yes, there have been more recent wars, “lesser wars”, forgotten wars, and still present-day wars. These are some of the things we remember today.

Some of us remember with thanksgiving that we were spared then. All of us should remember that our country was not invaded, that freedom was not extinguished.

We recall too the countless acts of courage and resolution that achieved these ends and which sustained our people.

And we remember those who suffered and died.

We remember too with sadness that what we have witnessed in the last century is the evil which can engulf the minds of our fellow human beings - after a thousand years of so-called civilisation.

Whether by coincidence or no, television seems recently to have a “thing” about dinosaurs. There are disturbing similarities here. Here are fearsome creatures defending their occupied territory, depending on awesome weapons to bring down prey; relying on sheer size and heavy armour to maintain their tribe and extend their territory; creatures, who, in the desire to maintain their power, were oblivious to what we would call cruelty and the the agony and suffering of fellow beings; creatures to whom almost every other being was a competitor to be shunned or eliminated, and whose only mutual tolerance was for a brief and loveless mating.

Am I describing primordial dinosaurs or twenty-first century mankind ? It is a well-used truism that the veneer of civilisation lies very thinly over our primitive instincts.

I call myself a Christian. For most of my life I have tried to teach others of the importance of Christianity. Why?

Well, let’s get it clear - It’s not because I consider myself to be “good”. I am a sinner.

I have no desire to escape from the realities of the world into a Bible-thumping, happy-clappy world of sanitised pop music and ritual “big-hugs”. I have neither right nor desire to wag my disapproving finger at the private lives of people or to make detailed promises of the hereafter about which I know virtually nothing.

I could give you a long list of reasons why I am a Christian, but the fundamental one, the basic one, is that I can see only one way, and only one, that has any hope of widening a gap. On one hand is the primitive world of competition, envy, ambition, hatred, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the survival of the wealthiest and the strongest. On the other hand is that true ideal of a “loftier race” which shall be ‘gentle brave and strong’ when ‘nation to nation, land to land, unarmed shall live as comrades free; in every heart and brain shall throb the pulse of one fraternity.’

I am a Christian because only in the teaching and life of Jesus of Nazareth do I find both the IDEAL and the AUTHORITY which offer the promise that humanity CAN put its primeval swamp behind it and start to behave as children of God.

I learn that HE said, “Blessed are those who are not dominated by the thought of material gain, who mourn over the evil in the world, who cheerfully accept their role in life, whose desire is to be at peace with God, who are always ready to forgive, who seek after peace and who are ready to accept misrepresentation and endure false accusation.

That is just the beginning of the “sermon in the Mount”.

And he went on in that same teaching session to give good advice about motivation for much of human behaviour. People pay small fortunes to psychologists for saying much the same thing. You can get it free by reading three chapters by St. Matthew.

My Christianity has not so much to do with what is called “religion” and “The Church”. These are simply the often imperfect apparatus which is used to focus attention on the teaching of Christ. Religion and The Church have been, and still are, frighteningly Imperfect. Sceptics will tell you that they have been the cause of much war - and they are right. They are right because institutions are made up of sinners like me. We get our priorities wrong; we are influenced by “what’s in it for me?” and “What power does it give me?”. But if we trim away the human and often sinful trappings we are left facing Christ. “Who do YOU think I am ? he asked his disciples.

Later he gives then the ultimate reply. “The Father and I are one!”

That is his authority for putting before us what St. Paul calls “the more excellent way”. That demands my loyalty.

In our time, may have died and are still being killed, for an ideal. The ideal of a land fit for heroes, for ultimate and lasting peace, for human rights, for liberty and security, for the destruction of evil and the pursuit of happiness.

Only Christ has revealed that not only is this possible, but that it is indeed, part of God’s plan for his people.

Today we remember that, too, with thanksgiving.

W.J.G.

© The Estate of William John Green, 2004

THE PRISONER’S PRAYER

(This prayer was written by an unknown prisoner in Ravensbruck concentration camp. It was found written on a piece of wrapping paper near the body of a dead child.)

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good-will, but also those of evil will.

But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us;

Remember the fruits we have borne, thanks to this suffering - our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity; the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this; And when they come to the judgement, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.

SUMMER REVERIE 1994

(Written by Gp.Capt. John Peel D.S.O., D.F.C. who, as a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, was shot down three times. Until recently he still walked the downs above Figheldean)

These Wiltshire downs I like to walk
Bear witness to those days when I was young.
Here, from these grasses bending to the breeze
In endless waves towards the sky,
I flew in youthful ecstasy to loop and roll
Among the peaks and valleys of the clouds.
“Stand here on this high bluff, old man,
and look towards the South;
Past that high spire,
across the fields of Hampshire now in bloom,
on to the English sea
There, where white trails of battle
Once etched the summer sky,
The chances of your life or death
passed piteously in brutal lottery.”

John Peel. September 1994.