Remembrance Sunday 2017
12 November 2017
1 Thessalonians 4:13-end
May I speak this morning in the name of God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Remembrance Sunday is an important event in the life of this nation.
In an age when there seems to be little in the way of unity or common life, in which everyone is plugged into their own devices doing their own thing, there are not that many times when so many people around the country are going to be doing the same thing at the same time.
But today is one of those times and today we, as a country, are remembering and honouring the memory of all those who have given their lives in times of war.
Remembrance Sunday takes place close to Armistice Day on the 11th November because it was intended originally to remember the fallen of the Great War. The names of those who died from Hadlow are always memorialised here in the window and at the memorial in the cemetery and we shall be reading from the list of the fallen there later this morning.
For the last three years there have been many 100th anniversaries in relation to the Great War. In 2014 it was 100 years since that war started, next year it will be 100 years since it ended and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
If your only experience of battle is watching Game of Thrones then it is easy to imagine that this battle took place across a few hours, there were some awesome special effects and then the survivors went home in time for a feast. Actually the battle of Passchendaele lasted from July to November 1917, some five months, and it is believed that about 260,000 men died on each side, or over half a million people died in the hell on earth that was the trenches of Ypres.
The Great War was such a hideous and traumatic experience for the people and nations involved that it was also referred to as the war to end all wars.
If it had been the war to end all wars then how different things would feel right now. Imagine if next year we were celebrating not only 100 years since the end of the Great War but also 100 years of peace. But, sadly, history has proved very different and within less than a generation from 1918 there was another great war, so they had to start giving them numbers, and the fallen of the Second World War are also memorialized here and at the cemetery. And, as we know, in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War there has only been one year in which British service personnel have not been involved in some kind of conflict. At the height of the Iraq war I took a Remembrance Service in my previous parish and I read out the names of the 300 British soldiers who had died at that point in the conflict.
So Remembrance Sunday is no longer just about remembering the fallen of the First World War it is about remembering and honouring all those who have died in battle in defence of this country. And we should be under no illusions that if those men and women from the Army, Navy, RAF had not gone to fight and been prepared to pay the ultimate price then the history of Europe and this life of this nation would have looked very different. And we do remember and honour all those who died so that we might live.
But I also want to strike a note of caution. We should never confuse remembering and honouring the dead with the glorification of war and the attitudes which lead to war.
It does not dishonor the dead that we should strive for all that makes for peace, indeed I believe that is what they fought and died for and, at the end of this service, we make a corporate commitment to be peacemakers. As a Christian I seek to follow the Prince of Peace but even if you are not a Christian please do not fall into the trap of thinking that seeking peace is somehow inimical to remembering those who have died.
And speaking as a Christian, from my pulpit, on a Sunday it would be hugely remiss of me not to mention the Christian hope, the Christian belief, that actually death does not have the final word.
In the reading we heard just now St Paul is saying something about that hope:
“We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
At the heart of the Christian faith lies not just the cross of Jesus but also the resurrection of Jesus and that resurrection was not just for him but for all those who have died, which includes those who died at Passchendaele, those who died in Iraq and in every other battle before and since, and, of course, it also applies to us.
So this Sunday, and every Remembrance Sunday, we remember and honour all those who have died in battle. But we also commit ourselves to seeking peace and speaking peace to a world which seems in thrall to the allure of war and, as Christians, we also remind ourselves that whilst we remember and honour the dead we do not believe that death has the final word over them or over us, that God is not God of the dead but of the living and all who have fallen asleep in Christ are alive in him.