A Sermon preached at the Mint Methodist Church,
Exeter, by the Minister, Rev Andrew Sails
Today we remember the
made by so many in war.
us brought up in this country will not need reminding
that our Remembrance services in November originated
with the signing of the Armistice
which ended the first World War on Nov 11th 1918.
As that particular has gradually changed
from immediate memory to distant history,
we have continued to remember.
Over the years the focus has widened to include
sadly a great list of subsequent conflicts
including in particular the 2nd World War
which still holds hugely poignant memories for some here today.
But more than that, today is now a day when –
whatever our age and whatever our nationality –
we can reflect on both the sacrifice and the horror of war.
But let us go back for a moment to 1914-1918 and the First
History’s perspective has changed British views of that war.
If you have ever seen “Oh what a lovely war”
with gung ho generals treating the WWI operations
like an entertainment at the end of Brighton pier;
or if you’ve seen “Blackadder Goes Forth”
with Stephen Fry and others playing the military top brass
again treating the carnage of the Somme
like some sort of jolly public school cricket match,
you will understand the ambivalence with which
we look at that war in particular.
Add to that the haunting poems of Wilfred Owen and others
written in the trenches –
and I guess that few of us would seek to defend
the arrogant stupidity and callousness
of some of our British generals in WWI
But – and
this is important -
that does not stop us recognizing the sacrificial bravery
of those who were sent so recklessly to their deaths.
the nearer the present we get,
the less easy it is to take a considered and mature view of conflict.
We have between us many different views on war in general
(when if ever is it justified?) and on specific wars
(World War 2, the Korean War, the Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq, , etc)
It is not
necessary for us to agree on the rights or wrongs
of war in general or specific wars in particular for us to honour the dead
who were prepared to sacrifice their own lives for their friends.
says “Greater love has no one
that he lay down his life for his friends”.(Jn 15:13)
is a moment when we all share in honouring the dead
who have been willing to give their today for out tomorrow.
But if we remember with
thanks the sacrifices of war,
we also remember with penitence the horrors of war.
recall great sacrifices of the past,
so we pray that never again may such sacrifice be needed.
After the end of WW2, Dachau Concentration Camp
was turned into a powerful museum,
reminding you not of the glory of war
but of the depths of human depravity
as you tour the shower blocks turned into gas chambers.
There at Dachau you will find a memorial,
written in 8 languages,
quoting some famous words of Georges Santayana -
"Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it."
At Auschwitz, after the cells of the
Concentration Camp had been emptied,
someone caught sight of something
pushed deep into a crevice in the wall.
It was a small scrap of paper put there by a former inmate.
On that small scrap of paper there was a message
written from the death cell to that future world
which would survive the horror of the holocaust –
Just one word in Hebrew- “Zahor”
which means “Remember!”
Telling that story the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs says
“It is for us to remember not in hate or
but simply so that what happened should not happen again
The memories of war are complex –
remembering with thanks the sacrifice for others,
but also remembering with penitence the evil
which required such sacrifice.
Every generation has to cope with the past
You have only to look at the Saddaam Husein trial
or read a case study of child abuse
to see the many layers of difficulty
in dealing creatively with past evil and folly.
Scripture is clear that we should
but rather learn from, the sin,
the suffering and the sacrifice of the past –
We are to recall the rock from
whence we are hewn,
and God’s power and grace at work
throughout even the most dark and treacherous parts of human history,
to bring us out of Egypt and Babylonian captivity and give thanks.
But we are also to recall the evils
of our own sin and rebellion.
As Peter discovered in the High Priest’s courtyard,
it is when we hear the cock crow,
when we remember our sins,
that is when we find the route via sorrow,
repentance and forgiveness which leads to new life.
And of course Christ particularly
tells us to remember –
do this in remembrance of me –
to remember the ultimate suffering and sacrifice of God
which does not ignore or forget human sin but confronts and -
thank God - ultimately defeats it.
was central to the quite remarkable
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
in post apartheid South Africa.
South Africa had to decide how to deal with its past.
There were plenty who argued for a Chilean Pinochet style
general amnesty for the former regime –
pretending the past had never happened -
what Desmond Tutu describes as general amnesia.
The Truth and Reconciliation
decided not to go down that route.
In Desmond Tutu’s words,
“It was pointed out that we, none of us, have the power to say
Let bygones be bygones and hey presto they would become bygones.
Our common experience is in fact the opposite –
that the past, far from disappearing or lying down and being quiet,
is embarrassingly persistent, and will return and haunt us
unless sit has been dealt with adequately.
Unless we look the beast in the eye,
we will find that it returns to hold us hostage.”
So the Truth and Reconciliation commission did this very thing,
getting Victims and perpetrators to talk together,
to seek to find the truth, forgiveness and reconciliation,
as the basis for amnesty and a new start. .”
(Tutu, “No future without forgiveness”, p. 31)
not just an issue about South Africa or Iraq or the Somme.
It is an issue for every member of the human race in every time and place.
When we forget the horrors of war,
we may become far too ready to fight new ones
When we forget the persecution and
of other races, creeds or groups by totalitarian regimes,
we may become far too ready to close our borders,
to become narrowly nationalistic, –
and indeed find ourselves in a society
where the likes of the BNP can still find support for their racist messages.
When you take
the oars in a rowing boat
you sit looking backwards and as you row the boat moves forwards.
So today we look back –
we look back with such mixed emotions
of gratitude, sorrow and penitence –
and we pray that looking back
may indeed help us move forward into the future -
never forget the voices of those who suffered
in the mud and carnage and flying debris of the Somme –
in those apocalyptic battles where the sun was blotted out
by the smoke and the gas and the mud –
Neither let us forget the voice of the angel –
Then the angel showed me the river
of the water of life,
as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
down the middle of the great street of the city.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life….
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse. ….
There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun,
for the Lord God will give them light.
And they will reign for ever and ever.
ORDER OF SERVICE
Welcome and Notices
Hymn 776 “Make me a channel of your peace”
Minister: Let us share God’s blessing:
Adults: The peace of the Lord be with you
Young Church: And also with you.
Minister: Go in peace
(Younger members of Young Church leave)
Reading: Isa 51:1-6 (p.738)
shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
we will remember them.
People: We will remember them.
you go home tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today
The Last Post
Minister: Almighty and eternal God, from whose love in Christ we cannot be parted, either by death or by life: Hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all whom we remember this day. Fulfil in them the purpose of your love. And bring us all, with them, to your eternal joy. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn “Gathered here, Lord, we remember” by John Forster (Tune 653 Bethany)
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer
Postlude: Herbert Howells: Rhapsody No. 3, for
Organ, in F sharp minor.
(Composed during a Zeppelin night raid over York in 1918)