Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow –Remembrance Sunday –
11th November 2018
Isaiah 2 vv 1 – 5 Isaiah’s vision of a world at peace
Q1. (to a brownie) What event are we especially marking today?
“What was happening in Europe 100 years ago affecting our country?”
A1 The end of the fighting of World War 1. The Armistice.
Q2. (to a scout)
“Why does our First World War 1 memorial window have the years 1914 – 1919?
A2. Because the treaty to agree the terms of the end of the war was signed at Versailles in France in June 1919.
Q3. (to a beaver or cub) What in this year are we especially celebrating?
Clue. It is represented in the poppies on the chapel screen.
A3. The formation of the Royal Air Force, the world’s first independent air force, 100 years ago, on 1st April 1918.
Now I want to speak from the pulpit to everyone, including you.
I wonder what it must have been like on 11th November 1918, in France, in England and many other countries! A profound sense of relief that the fighting was over. A celebration that the aggressive aims of Germany had been defeated. A profound sense of sadness in all the countries involved, at the millions of soldiers and many civilians on both sides, who had been killed. Women at home who knew that their husbands were not coming home. You have only to look at the poppies beside the Church path and the names in the window to realise the effect here in Hadlow and then to think that there was a similar loss in nearly every village, town and city in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This was the war which at the beginning in 1914 people thought would be over by Christmas of that year. This war was also described as the ‘war to end all wars’. No war ends wars. One war begets another war. The returning soldiers from France and elsewhere expected to return to a home and country fit for heroes. But the sadness was that many were physically injured to the extent that they were unable to work and there was a shortage of work resulting in many able people not being able to work. When they returned home often they said very little about their traumatic experiences; a typical reaction of PTSD; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The severe reparations imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles was a very significant cause of poverty in Germany leading to the rise of Hitler and ultimately to the Second World War in 1939.
- Vision of Peace. We had a reading this morning from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the book of the great statesman-prophet Isaiah. He lived at a time of tremendous political upheaval, of wars, as Assyria sought to conquer surrounding countries and build a huge empire. First the northern kingdom of Israel had been overrun and many of the leading people were taken into captivity in Assyria. Then many years later, Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah and the home of Isaiah, was besieged, with a similar result. Isaiah did not give up hope. He had a deep faith in God. He had this vision from God of a worldwide peace, when armaments would be re-cycled and made into agricultural implements. He sees that ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.’ Of course, this hasn’t happened yet, 2½ thousand years after Isaiah spoke and wrote. Is it just a pious wish? No, it is more than that. In that prophecy, Isaiah speaks of the word of the Lord going out from Jerusalem. That found its fulfilment primarily in Jesus, the word of God, as St John calls him, but also in the Church after Jesus’ ascension, until today people in all the nations have heard and responded to the Christian gospel. The final fulfilment of the last days may not be so very far away.
- The Interim. Isaiah’s vision is a vision of hope not a political manifesto of pacifism. Meanwhile whilst we press on towards that vision, the forces of evil have to be restrained, as well as working towards a reduction of armaments. Today we remember with thanksgiving for their sacrifice, those people of our own country, the countries of the British Commonwealth, the United States as well countries such as France, Poland, Holland and Belgium on the European continent that endured the fighting on their own soil and also huge service and civilian casualties in the two World Wars. We also remember that many ordinary people in Germany, Greece, and Palestine were caught up in a war that was not of their making or wish. In doing so, we in no way glamorise these wars and other actions. War is an awful event, a last resort, when negotiation has been tried and is impossible.
- Remembrance. Today at the centenary of the Armistice at the end of the First World War, we remember especially the 50 men of Hadlow village who died in WW1. They are commemorated with brief details in the poppies beside the Church path and in the window beside me. Their names will be read out at the war memorial in the short service after this service at midday in the parish Cemetery. I thought it would be good just to remember two other people one of whom has a lasting memorial in Tonbridge and the other was his twin brother who was killed in WW1.
Christopher Chavasse served as a chaplain in WW1. He was awarded the Military Cross. The citation, for which reads, “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. His fearlessness and untiring efforts in attending to the wounded were magnificent. Although continually under fire, he volunteered on every possible occasion to search for and bring in the wounded. No danger appeared to be too great for him to face, and he inspired others to greater effort by his splendid example.” From 1940 to 1960 he was Bishop of Rochester. He was largely responsible in 1951 for the Foundation of Bennett Memorial School in Tunbridge Wells and is now remembered in the name of the new primary school in Tonbridge, Bishop Chavasse Primary School.
His twin brother Noel served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He is one of only three people ever to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice, the second occasion being posthumously in the opening days of the fighting at Passchendaele in 1917.
- Our action It was a vision of European leaders after the Second World War to bring together the European countries not only in a trading area but in union, so that there should be no repeat of such events as those two World Wars. Their vision has achieved much, but because of the frailty of human nature, the Union has its weaknesses. The formation of the United Nations organisation has been a great step forward globally in nations working together, in seeking reconciliation and in minimising conflict.
Each of us can in some small way make society better, by visiting the lonely, by encouraging the despairing, by supporting communal activities, by volunteering as leaders of youth organisations and committee members of adult societies, by bringing up our children with good values respecting other people, by the nature and quality of the paid employment we have. The list is endless. Often it is the way we do these activities, how we relate to other people, that matters more than what we actually do.
Jesus reinforced the two foundational commandments of the Hebrew Scriptures, to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves. The first commandment is very important. It is our relationship with God that develops and motivates our relationships with our neighbours. All this activity should be in a context of a vision, a vision of a just and fair society, locally, nationally and globally, in which peace reigns supreme, in which, safely, we can begin to beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks, in which nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war any more. I conclude with the final verse of our Bible reading,
“Come, O people of God, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
1387 words Christopher Miles