Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified, for these things must take place. These are the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading this morning.
Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we remember those who have died in the many wars in the last hundred years. And we wear a poppy to show that remembrance. Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day started after the first World War when the shock and horror of the millions of dead and wounded of that War to end all Wars was so fresh in the minds of the population.
But since then, war has continued and is being waged in Europe, in Ukraine as I speak here in our peaceful Britain. We sometimes forget the devastating effect war can have on people. We look at our memorials with the names of so many wasted young lives on them, but for many of us they are that, just historical monuments, but for others they have a personal meaning that is still remembered. In my own family my grandmother’s younger brother was killed aged 20 in France during the German spring initiative of 1918. He was a Royal Flying Corps wireless operator, seconded to the Army when the RFC became the RAF. We know he died in a casualty clearing station near Amiens and luckily we know where his grave is and have visited it, lastly on the 100th anniversary of his death in 2018. But my attempts to try to find out exactly what happened to him were thwarted as the National Archives told me the regimental records were lost – “probably somewhere in the mud of France” they said. My great grandparents and my grandmother never really got over his death. And that must be true for every family whose young people are thrust into war and destruction – currently every Ukrainian parent and, for that matter, every Russian parent whose offspring is currently waging a war largely to feed the ego of one wicked man, must currently be beside themselves with worry, worry which could well become grief.
But why do we need to remember anyway? War is nothing new. It does not necessarily affect us personally. The two major European or World Wars of the Twentieth Century are so long ago. The second World War ended a decade before I and many others of us were born. Well, we need to remember, because we also need as a people to recall the horrors people went through. So that we can remind our politicians that peace and co-operation are better than conflict. I spent my career as a diplomat. I don’t think I was ever directly instrumental in avoiding a conflict, but I did a lot of lobbying on international security issues being decided in the United Nations and hopefully doing other things to improve the World order and relations between the UK and the countries in which I worked. I always subscribed to the idea that jaw, jaw is better than war, war. It is good to talk!
Last week I had the honour of meeting His Holiness Mar Awa lll, the Patriarch of the Church of the East, who is based in Erbil, Iraq – a part of the World which has known conflict and insecurity for a long time. We spoke of the terrible problems faced by the church and Christians in that part of the World. Of the fleeing of Christians from the places which have had Christian communities for far longer than we in Europe, in the face of Islamic persecution and terrorism. We spoke of the need for reconciliation, for tolerance and for rebuilding of trust. This is what must happen in areas of conflict. We are all children of God and we must learn to live together for the sake of our Lord.
And while in our gospel today Jesus speaks of how nation will rise against nation, how war is inevitable and necessary in some circumstances, He also speaks of how we must keep faith, must hold to him and our faith in the face of many trials, betrayals and hatred.
Reconciliation is better than conflict and it is good that we all remember at this time the horrors that war can bring. And we need to continue to support those currently affected by conflict with our prayers and in more material ways if we can.
So while we remember all those lost in War, and we must honour them as we also remember that it is their sacrifice that has enabled us to live in peace, we must also do so in a spirit of reconciliation, love and forgiveness as our Lord would wish us to do.
And let us also pray for those who seek to bring about peace in areas of conflict, for as our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”.
In conclusion let me recite the words of the famous poem by Lawrence Binyon about those who lose their lives in fighting for freedom:
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
It is good to remember.
May they rest in peace and rise in glory.