sermon preached at the
Readings: Micah 4:1-5, Jahn 15:9-17
“Greater love has
no man than this -
that he lay down his life for his friends"
The Sacrifice of War
weekend we remember all those
who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in war.
is not to say that war is always right –
let alone something in which to glory.
Wearing a poppy with pride doesn't include pride
in the senseless slaughter of the Somme,
the blanket bombing of Dresden,
or the radiation sickness of Hiroshima.
of us will have applauded the Queen’s decision
to make a donation to the restoration of Dresden Cathedral
destroyed by the British 60 years ago.
Perhaps a tacit recognition of the moral ambiguity of the bombing?
And talking of moral ambiguity,
what are we to make of the reports from the Red Crescent
of the “disastrous” plight of civilians in Fallujah?
acts of war in history,
including many perpetrated by the UK,
Have been at best misguided, at worst downright wrong.
Church folk campaign each year
against the "demonic" activities of Hallowe'en.
We are all called to oppose the devil and his works.
But maybe we should beware lest children's dressing-up games
divert us from concern for the truly demonic -
all those occasions when war degenerates
into self-serving victimization of the weak
by the strong in the killing fields of history.
But, whatever the rights and
wrongs of some wars,
nothing should stop us from recognizing
the greatness of human spirit and sacrifice which,
time and again, has been brought forth by war.
In many different ways those caught in the crisis of war
civilians or military, victors or vanquished,
find themselves confronted as never before
with ultimate issues of life and death,
with the call to sacrifice, the call to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
at every point of national or personal crisis,
Christ is always there, calling us to take up our cross,
and go with him on the long and lonely road
from Gethsemane to Calvary.
In one of his poems, Kipling places the garden of
in the Picardy of World War One.
“….The officer sat on the chair,
the men lay on the grass,
And all the time we halted there,
I prayed my cup might pass.
It didn't pass – it didn’t pass
It didn’t pass from me
I drank it when we met the gas,
Today, we recognize the willingness of many people
to drink the cup of suffering
and follow Christ beyond Gethsemane and to the Cross.
We remember the sacrifices of two world wars -
tens of thousands who lived sacrificial lives,
and tens of thousands who died sacrificial deaths –
in one way or another all giving their lives for others.
We thank God for all who showed that
out of the deepest darkness of slaughter
the spirit of sacrifice could still emerge.
The Sacrifice of Peace
So we honour our dead.
yet – do we not need to ask questions
about our lives since the two world wars?
Why is it that as a country
we are so often prepared to lay down our lives for one another in war,
but not in peace?
Tawney, the great historian,
was almost killed on the Somme in the first world war.
Caught in no man's land, he was finally rescued,
one of fifty out of eight hundred who survived
one of those suicidal pushes over the top.
Returning home, he was appalled
by the class-ridden snobbery and selfishness of England
once the war was over.
He wrote asking why the spirit of sacrifice
could not carry over into peace time.
Why, he asked, is the idea of a munitions factory run for personal profit
so scandalous in wartime,
and yet so readily acceptable in peace time?
With Tawney we might pause to wonder why.
and women can so easily come together in self-sacrificial fellowship
around the business of the battlefield,
and yet return to greed and selfishness and every one for themselves
as soon as military conflict ceases.
After both world wars we were bidden to build a land fit for heroes.
yet I am haunted by a press photo from the early 1920s.
A group of unemployed ex-soldiers
is marching down Whitehall on Armistice Day.
They are wearing not their medals but pawn tickets –
pinned where the medals should have been –
because they have had to pawn their medals
to buy bread for their wives and children.
I remember one Remembrance Sunday in a previous Church -
one of the senior members of my congregation
coming up in the middle of the service
and asking if he could say something.
And very movingly, and without prior arrangement,
he shared with the congregation
some of his childhood memories of the first world war.
“And when my father came back from the war he couldn’t get work –
he had nothing – he was treated like dirt.”
land fit for heroes?
Or a land abandoning sacrifice of war for the selfishness of peace?
country needs you” was the old Kitchener poster.
Yes – our country needs us, in war and peace.
And what our country – every country - needs are true patriots –
who continue to fight for love and justice and integrity
and dignity and equality for all people
as much in peacetime as in war.
follow the path from Gethsemane means finding ourselves
in the trenches of the Somme, on the march from Jarrow,
in the camps of Ramala and the streets of Fallujah -
anywhere, everywhere, where there is suffering and struggle
and concern for the needs of our sisters and brothers.
age, we may not be called to fight in the jungles of Burma
or brave the convoys of the North Atlantic.
We are no longer cooking with dried eggs
or saying our prayers in the bomb shelters.
And yet we are still in a world
that needs desperately the spirit of love and self-giving sacrifice.
we remember together those who lived that creed 60 years ago and more,
let us commit ourselves afresh to honour them in the best way possible –
in family, civic and national life –
by living out our lives in that same spirit of love, sacrifice and mutual care.
For it is for every generation
that Christ walked the path from Gethsemane to Calvary.
And it is to every generation that he says:
”Take up your cross and follow me".
May we heed his call, and
follow in his footsteps.
For "Greater love has no man than this –
that he gives up his life for his friends”