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
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” said the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the 20th August 1940; a momentous speech that has gone down in history as capturing the essence of the British struggle against the German Luftwaffe during that period known as ‘The Battle of Britain’ (chiefly from the 10th July – 15th September 1940, although ‘The Blitz’ continued until the end of October). The battle was significant because it was the first battle to be conducted solely in the air and the only battle to have ever taken place in the skies of England. The Prime Minister’s words were of course spoken at a time when it wasn’t clear what the outcome would be, but now 80 years on we can all give thanks that they prevailed and gratefully remember the huge debt this nation owes to the bravery of the nearly 3000 British, Czech and Polish airmen of the Royal Air Force who fought during the Battle of Britain of whom only around half survived. Their average age being only 22. Although this article concentrates on the RAF and the airmen Winston Churchill referred to as ‘The Few’ it would be wrong to forget the soldiers and sailors who took part in so many other battles around the world during the First and Second World Wars, and other subsequent conflicts defending the nation. Nor should we forget the support given by so many others in so many various auxiliary and supportive positions (including that of family and friends) – and in this particular instance the thousands of volunteer plane spotters whose vigilance, alongside radar, gave us advanced warning of German air attacks. Naturally, Churchill was right to say that ‘never … was so much owed by so many to so few’, but equally ‘the few’ depended upon the efforts of ‘the many’ to keep them airborne with the best possible fighting chance. The nation was at war and they were in it together.
Once again, we are today at war, facing a period of great fear, upheaval and uncertainty – but this time our ‘enemy’ is largely hidden and unseen; and depending upon where we live, the threat against us may be ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’. Once again we rely upon ‘the few’, doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers to keep us safe and alive,but in this ‘battle for Britain’, weall have a part to play, and whether we be young or old, we all have a collective and individual responsibility to be vigilant and diligent, playing our part to keep one another safe. We are in this battle together!
In this period of difficulty and uncertainty, it’s only too easy to become anxious, fearful and depressed, but actually we have a great deal of power. We can defeat this virus if we choose to do the right things and obey the rules. ‘Love’ they say, ‘makes the world go around’, but the Christian will know that the greatest source of love is actually God himself, who ‘so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’(John 3.16). The tremendous thing about God’s love is that regardless of the circumstances, whether they be good or bad (and whether we feel it or not), God’s love is constant and totally reliable. ‘Never will I leave you nor forsake you’ he says in Hebrews 13.5 which can be a great comfort to us all, and especially to those who feel lonely, anxious or afraid. So as we pay our tributes and respects this Remembrance Sunday, let us not lose heart but be inspired by those who gave so much for us and with God’s help do our best to faithfully follow their example and win this new battle – together!
… faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem otherwise known as Operation Market Garden. The successful D-Day landings in France had become bogged down in the slow and costly progress through the Normandy fields and hedgerows which the Germans defended tenaciously. Despite this, the Allies had made progress across France and Belgium, liberating both Paris and Brussels. Surely victory couldn’t be far away! Unfortunately, as the Allies pushed closer to Germany’s borders, the enemy forces were regrouping and resistance became stiff. General Montgomery believed that a powerful, narrow thrust deep into German lines would be more effective that a slow advance on a broad front and so on 17th September 1944, 30,000 British and American airborne troops (backed up by British & Polish forces on the ground) were flown and parachuted behind enemy lines to capture the eight bridges that spanned the network of canals and rivers on the Dutch/German border. Initially, things went well but British Paratroopers were soon under attack and, hampered by radios that didn’t work, they found that they couldn’t co-ordinate things properly. Ground forces found the narrow route treacherous as most of the bridges had been blown up before they could be captured. On the third day they reached the Nijmegen bridge where the Americans were still fighting but they couldn’t get across to join the British Paratroopers at Arnhem just three miles away on the far side. To tremendous cost, General Horrocks ordered American troops to attack across the River Waal. Half of the company were killed. Finally, they managed to storm the bridge but it was too late for the British Paratroopers because the Germans had moved their tanks into the town and were systematically destroying all the houses in which they were fighting. Eventually the Allied troops were forced to abandon their positions and fight their way out – their last radio message only heard by German intercepts was “Out of ammo, God save the King”. The desire to finish the war early by Christmas 1944 had failed. It had proved to be a bridge too far.
Perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, in the light of our own personal battles, there are times when we too feel that things have got too much for us and that we have gone as far as we can go, with failure the only possible outcome. It’s at times like these when we need to remember those who gave so much for us in service of the nation and be encouraged and inspired by their example. It was always thought that the 10,000 men of the 1st Airborne Division would only be able to hold the Arnhem bridge for two days, but in reality, 740 men held it for almost twice as long against much heavier opposition than expected. Theologically speaking, the Christian is aware that we are not always called to be successful (as nice as that may be), but we are called to be faithful. We may not always win the battle because sadly some things may prove to be outside of our control to our disappointment, but how we fight the battle and conduct ourselves is a sign of God at work in us and can make a real difference!
Please may I warmly invite and encourage you to join us for one of the many Remembrance Day Services taking place across our benefice on 10th November as we remember with gratitude and grateful respect all those who have died in two world wars and other major conflicts. Not only will you be warmly welcomed but your presence will significantly enhance this special occasion.
Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13