The First World War (1914-18) has often been described as ‘The Great War’ and ‘the war to end all wars.’ It is given such accolades because despite the many brave and heroic actions that took place, it’s also recognised as being one of the most tragically painful episodes of human history with immense suffering, as no-one can be certain how many lives were actually lost on the battlefield. Historians estimate that it may be as many as 10 million people killed with another 20 million people wounded. It was therefore hoped that the world would never see such a conflict again, but sadly within a few short years not only did we have the Second World War but there have been many other conflicts since. It’s no wonder that the Christian poet, Steve Turner, was inspired to write ‘History repeats itself. It has to – no one listens.’
To those of us who have, thankfully, only ever known peace, the current war in Ukraine with all its evidence of mass graves, torture chambers and deportations reminds us of just how dirty, depraved, and brutal war can be, causing much damage to people’s lives, infrastructure and society. We can therefore only hope and pray that the innocent will find peace; the good will prevail; and that the wicked will be brought both to heel and to justice.
In such circumstances, many of us will remember the biblical verse, “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13), often quoted on Remembrance Sunday. It’s true, there is no greater love than making this ultimate sacrifice. But it also needs to be remembered thatthat particular verse is set within a passage that not only commands us to be loving in death – but in life! This is my command says Jesus, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15.12). War sometimes requires us to live and love sacrificially, but that same quality should also be evident in times of peace, as we endeavour to see others the same way that God sees them. Ultimately, it was this same quality of sacrificial love and purpose that drove Jesus to die for us upon the cross, taking upon himself not only the consequences of our fallen nature but offering us the forgiveness of sins when we put our faith and trust in him. The Bible reveals not only how ‘in love’ Jesus lived and died for us, but how as ‘God incarnate’ he rose again. His resurrection therefore (which is promised to all who believe) heralds not only a new way of life, but a new way of living forever as part of God’s new creation which we call heaven, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” for all that has passed away (Revelation 21.4). How much do we long for that!
Please join us in church this Remembrance Sunday as we commemorate all those who sacrificially gave so much serving our nation in times of war, so that we might be free to live and love in peace.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
Later this month we will be observing Remembrance Sunday, the annual occasion when we as a nation can come together to mark and remember with gratitude all those who gave their lives serving their country throughout two world wars and other conflicts. This simple act of remembrance is supposed to encourage us to strive for peace as we appreciate the incredible cost of war and the damage that it does to all concerned. Yet it seems as if the world in which we live is more fragile than ever, not only in terms of the environment marked by the COP26 climate conference, but by the volatile nature of world relations. Although we may have got used to the almost routine launching of missiles by North Korea over the seas of South Korea, the world was shocked by the belief that China had launched a hypersonic missile that flew around the world at five times the speed of sound. Senator Lindsey Graham said, “If in fact, the Chinese have developed a hypersonic missile that can deliver a nuclear weapon, it’s a military game-changer when it comes to nuclear forces – God help us all”. “We have no idea how they did this,” another US intelligence official is quoted as saying. Despite the fact that the Chinese may simply be developing their space technology and that respective nations are still seeking investment and wishing ‘to do business’ with China, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has concluded that its global ambitions are clear, for in terms of tonnage, China has launched more submarines and warships than any other nation, equivalent to the entire Royal Navy every four years.
And yet, as recent events in Afghanistan remind us, military take overs by dictatorial regimes do not always lead to greater freedoms, security, prosperity or peace. We seem to be in danger of forgetting ourselves and the terrible cost of war and hostility. Surely, the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart! – especially when people, countries and nations seek to manipulate, gain control and take advantage of those around them. The Christian will be mindful of the words of Jesus, who reminded the crowds that “out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, .. theft, murder, .. greed, .. arrogance and folly” (Mark 9.21-22). The recent death of Sir David Amess was a tragedy, but his family were absolutely right when they called for a change of heart. “Our hearts are shattered,” they said. “We ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all”. Jesus had said something similar when he had commanded his disciples “to love each other as I have loved you” (John 15.9). Loving like this requires a real change of heart, mind and perspective; one that does not seek to simply better oneself, but puts the other person first so that collectively we might all live better lives of freedom, love, joy and peace. These are the goals, values and ambitions that we should strive for and those that previous generations fought so hard to protect at great cost. So let us all take a moment to come together this Remembrance Sunday – ‘lest we forget’.
Be careful … that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Deuteronomy 4.9
‘Silence is golden’or so we are told, but at 4.20am on the 11th November 1918, the last soldiers went ‘over the top’ and the world was far from silent or golden; in fact, it was dirty, dark, noisy and red. Although the Armistice was signed at 5.00am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France, it wouldn’t be until the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month that the guns of Europe finally fell silent. The Great War would be over, but not until there had been another 2,738 men killed and 10,944 casualties on that single morning alone. In fact the numbers of those who died during the First World War are staggering. In the UK around six million men were mobilised, and of those just over 700,000 were killed. That’s around 11.5% of all men that went to fight ‘for King and Country’. The Hall of Memory at the famous Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium contains the names of 54,896 unidentified Commonwealth soldiers. On completion it was discovered to be too small to contain all the names, so another 34,984 were inscribed elsewhere… and that’s just the unidentified soldiers. An estimated 16.5 million people (military and civilian) are believed to have died in total. With so many people killed and so many families torn apart as they bore the consequences of the conflict, it’s easy to see why this was considered to be the Great War, for the numbers are huge. Although these make fearsome statistics, we should never forget that these are all individuals, people who were known and loved by their families and friends; a point which remains true even for those whose names were eventually classified as ‘known only to God’.
This year on November 11th we will be holding our usual Remembrance Day Services across the benefice and I would like to invite you to strongly consider coming to one if you can as we remember with gratitude and grateful respect all those who have died in two world wars and other major conflicts. However, at All Saints Necton at 6.00pm we are going to be holding a special service to commemorate not only those who died in the conflict, but also to give thanks for the end of the First World War, as this year marks the centenary of its end. The service will finish with the bells in our church tower joining the nation in ringing a short celebratory salute to mark the end of the war. Please join us as we mark this special and significant occasion.
Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13