Remembrance Sunday brings to mind a variety of feelings. Some people here may have experienced war or have relatives who’ve been affected by war. Some here may have loved ones currently serving in the Armed Forces. Others, like me, have little involvement in the realities of armed conflict, but we all have immense respect for those who have put their lives on the line for our freedom. Today, it is important to remember.
Many of you will have seen some of the many war memorials in France. It’s a humbling experience. Travelling through the Somme in the summer, we visited the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, which bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in WW1 and have no known grave. The whereabouts of their bodily remains will always be a mystery - and how disturbing this must have been for their families.
We have mixed feelings about war. We hope that we live in a country where conflict is only entered into when necessary to protect our freedom or the freedom of vulnerable people. We hope that world leaders consider long and hard whether war is justified before entering into armed conflict. We hope that those who fight in our Armed Forces will fight with honour. But evidence from contemporary conflicts shows that sometimes wars start with questionable motivations, and sometimes conflict brings out the most shameful behaviour, not just in the enemy, but in us and in our allies.
Sadly, we still count the dead, as bodies are flown back to the UK, and we read their stories in the newspaper. At the end of WW1, you wouldn’t be able to fit the names of the dead in a single newspaper. The sheer numbers are hard for us to comprehend today. WW1 was known as ‘the war to end all wars’. It has been followed by WW2, Korea, the Falklands, the two Gulf Wars, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and conflicts in other areas where British & Commonwealth troops have been engaged. It is important to remember.
Some of us who were at the service of Remembrance in Liscard on Thursday were disappointed because at the 2 minute silence at 11:00, some people just walked on past, carrying on their conversations. At that one point in time, which is set aside for remembrance, they had forgotten. But on reflection, those people remind me of the fact that all of us, at times, take our freedom for granted. And that’s why the work of the Royal British Legion is so important, lest we forget.
This year, the British Legion has done something really different to mark Remembrance Sunday. They’ve made a single called ‘2 Minute Silence’, which is available online to download for £1 - and as well as the silent track, buyers also receive a video file showing individuals standing silent in remembrance: famous actors, sports stars, politicians and musicians as well as serving and injured soldiers. I found it quite moving. Chris Simpkins, from the British Legion, hopes that people will appreciate the significance of the absence of sound: ‘Rather than record a song’, he says, ‘we felt the UK public would recognise the poignancy of silence and its clear association with remembrance.’ Let us hope so, too.
A Facebook campaign has boosted the single into the Top 40 – and because it’s a ‘new entry’ in the charts, BBC Radio 1 is going to play this silent song during the Sunday afternoon countdown. A completely noiseless charity single in the charts for the first time. The Official Charts Company says they’re ‘not aware that any track like this has ever made an impact on the Official Singles Chart before. But even aside from that, this [is] a great achievement by the Royal British Legion - and for a great cause, of course’ – what a contemporary way of encouraging Remembrance in the public arena, especially amongst younger people. The Royal British Legion knows it’s important to remember.
We remember the many people who have fought to protect freedom and bring peace. But in our remembering, as Christians, let us not forget the one who puts the vision of freedom and peace into our hearts – he is the one who comes to bring us ultimate freedom and peace.
Our bible readings today are all about God’s promises for freedom and peace. The reading from Revelation 22 reminds us that the day will come when there will be no more pain, no more conflict, no more war. It’s a prophecy of the New Jerusalem, of Eden restored, the time to come when earth will merge with heaven in the new creation. And the first reading from Isaiah 25, written some 700 years before Jesus came to begin the merger, prophesies the same thing:
The context of the Isaiah reading is a time in Israel’s history when things are bleak – civilised society has become disordered, and Israel is badly afflicted. Verse 2 says: ‘You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin...’ We’re not told which city this is – it could be Babylon, but it seems to move beyond this to any city characterised by arrogance, injustice and the misuse of power. It’s every city devoted to greed and exploitation. This city is in ruin, and Isaiah praises the Lord for having done ‘wonderful things’, which he had planned long ago. This prophecy speaks of God’s ultimate intentions to humble those who exploit the weak.
Isaiah is inspired to speak for all the poor and needy, those who are crushed and abused by indifference and greed. In the abusive city the poor are surrounded by the merciless who care only for themselves. Isaiah speaks the word that God will intervene against that city, and even the heartless will glorify and fear the Lord because God eliminates the old way of living and being. From verse 6 both the city and the ruthless have disappeared, leaving only the generous and caring presence of the righteous Lord. The vision is of a mountain. On ‘this mountain’ is the great banquet for all peoples, in the fullness of the Kingdom of God, who offers this feast as a sign of generosity, security, and joy - but goes even further than that. Isaiah imagines that the whole earth has a ‘pall’ over it – a shroud of death – weighed down by sadness and loss. The world is gripped by the power of death that crowds in upon every chance for life. This isn’t just about the awareness that we’re all going to die. This is about the active negation of well-being; everything that limits humanity and our well-being, and prevents communion with others or with God. That’s who death is, and that’s the death that God will swallow up. The apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 15:54, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’. This is the good news of Jesus – this is his accomplishment on the cross. And 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah envisions nothing less than a radical, complete transformation. The final act of transformation removes the shame of helplessness and exploitation; of not being able to resist the powers of death. All of that will be overcome. This is our faith – it is important to remember.
In verse 1, Isaiah says, ‘You are my God.’ By the end of the passage he’s joined by all who welcome the Lord’s kingdom: ‘This is our God.’ This is the community that hopes in confidence that the Lord will prevail. The city of abuse cannot escape the God whom Israel trusts and praises: the Lord who has power to save and to transform. Armistice is about peace, but Christians understand ‘peace’ as more than just the avoidance of war. It’s about building relationships between people, communities, and nations, founded on justice. We start here in our own parish, in our own community, building relationships of peace. And for that we need God’s help, to change each and every one of us: to give us a passion for peace and justice and to follow Jesus, who is the path to peace.
Lord God, give us the will to pledge ourselves to serve you and all others, in the cause of peace, for the relief of want and suffering, and for the praise of your name. Guide us by your Spirit, give us wisdom, give us courage, give us hope, and keep us faithful now and always. Amen.