A serman to provoke thought
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 12th November 2017
At St. Leonards Church, Aston Le Walls, a SERMON
"Aftermath" – prepared and delivered by John Lloyd-Brown, Churchwarden...
For the past few Remembrance Sundays we have commemorated dates and details that occurred 100 years ago in the First World War. We have remembered the start of that war in 1914, the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April 1915 when, mainly due to the new use of chlorine gas, 6,000 allied troops died within 10 minutes at 5pm on 22nd April. Let me repeat that - 6,000 deaths in 10 minutes!
Last year we remembered the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – the battle that could be heard on London’s Hampstead Heath, when 19,240 British men were killed on the first day, 1st July. By the end of that battle - on 8th November - the Allies had advanced about 6 miles. Less than from here to Banbury and at a cost of some 420,000 casualties.
And this year we aren't finished yet. The 3rd Battle of Ypres - called the Battle of Passchendaele began on the 3rd July 1917 and ended, on 10th November - 100 years ago the day before yesterday and yet again the numbers are beyond belief. Some 320,000 Allied casualties and some 250,000 German. The Allies had advanced 5 miles. The rains were the worst in memory and the Battle of Passchendaele is often called the Battle of Mud. Imagine it - guns, horses, men, young men sinking into cold, stinking mud. It's a horror film with, I'm afraid, no Glorious Dead.
But warfare then was so different. As a country, we had a threat and young men, perhaps to escape the boredom of village life or perhaps to aspire to greater feelings of bravery, joined up in their thousands. The enemy was real and the enemy was threatening us. And in the Second World War - which we have rather stopped talking about these past years when we are concentrating on the First World War - young men - and women - joined up to fight against the real threat of Nazism. I have told you of the story that my father told me when he was up at Oxford, of the famous debate held at the Union Debating Society in 1933 that "this house would not fight for King and Country". It was passed by 275 votes to 153 and it caused an outcry. Winston Churchill condemned the motion as "that abject squalid, shameless avowal". When war did break out in September 1939, the War Office organised a recruiting board at Oxford which invited undergraduates and postgraduates under 25 to enlist, and over 2,600 out of a potential 3,000 students did just that. Because, as my father said, our country's freedom was at stake. He, at 22, joined up and fought in Burma and by the end of the war was one of the few of his Oxford contemporaries to survive.
There was a real threat to our way of living and our lives and we reacted. And, in a few moments, we shall go outside and remember the 8 young men who died from this parish in the two world wars. And give thanks for their sacrifice. And weep.
War can never be good - it is terrifying and leaves huge permanent scars. There can be - and of course are - many acts of real heroism and self-sacrifice in a war but war is not good. And once a war has started, Christian values can pretty well be thrown out of the window: gentleness, generosity, forgiveness, mercy, love of thine enemy and turning the other cheek. I wonder how many of us would really lay down our life for our friends - which Jesus taught us was the greatest act of love.
Jesus didn't talk of national policy and affairs of state in his teachings. I don't think he even talked of war. He talked instead of individual morality and peace and justice for ALL. I would suggest that if we really honour the dead from wars, then each and every one of us should strive for peace. Maybe we can not make peace with enemies of our nation but we can make peace with individuals. There will always be quarrels between nations and sometimes these quarrels can escalate into war - there IS wrong and injustice and cruelty in the world and we should challenge all of those things but if we can do anything to honour the dead, it is to remember history and to fight for peace.
War is now very different. We don't go to war to conquer land or to conquer people. We say we fight wars of freedom - to help and free the oppressed and the frightened and those who are being slaughtered often by their own people. We offer support in intelligence and training and special forces and logistics and we hope to goodness we are on the right side. I think I am right in saying that there has only been one year -1969 - since the end of the Second World War when a British service man or woman has not been killed on active duty.
We have been involved in parts of the world where we hope we have done good.
But think of the consequences. More British service men who fought in Afghanistan have died by committing suicide than by being killed by enemy fire. There are more refugees in the world fleeing warfare - not economic migrants - than there were at the end of the second world war. The estimate is 22 million and over half of them just from three countries - Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. And the United Nations say that over 50% are under the age of 14. In a way, the consequences of war are as bad as war itself and for that reason, shouldn't we, as Christians and indeed as humans, be striving to stop war from starting? How can we, individually, avoid the horrors of the aftermath of war? If we fail to try, we are dishonouring those who have fought and died and sacrificed their lives for us. As it says in the poem I shall read in a few moments, we can not break faith with those who have died. We have to challenge politicians and presidents - in any country - who threaten war and especially those who these days threaten and commit war against their own. We have to challenge those of ANY faith who embrace terror and warfare. We have to build bridges NOT walls.
The Greek statesman and orator Pericles said "Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it" and I think that this is our fight. Our war, if you like. That we fight for peace and justice and freedom FOR ALL and that we do not sell arms to other countries for them to bomb their enemies (like in the Middle East). That we do not train and help regimes who expel their own countrymen and women (like in South East Asia). That we do not support the use of drones against innocent villagers in far off lands (like in Afghanistan). We may not be talking about tens of thousands of young men dying in the mud in Flanders Fields for the sake of a few miles, but we are talking about human families fleeing warfare and dying in dangerous waters and living in squalid camps.
Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God". As we stand together as a parish outside, please remember those words and pledge to those 8 young men who died that, in their memory, we shall "look up and swear by the green of the Spring that we will never forget". War IS a bloody game and it is our duty - all of us who enjoy the freedoms that we do - to strive for peace.