Remembrance Sunday

13th November 2011

 Micah 4:1-5, Romans 8:31-end John 15:9-17


In Flanders field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.
Short days ago we lived, 
felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

So wrote Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918), who was Professor of Medicine at McGill University in Canada, who served as a medical Officer with the first Canadian Contingent. At the second battle of Ypres in 1915, when in charge of a small first- aid post, he wrote this now famous poem in pencil on a page torn from his despatch book and it was published anonymously in the Punch magazine.

The poppy has became a symbol of Remembrance of all those who have been killed on active service, particularly the two World Wars. Today we remember them, not to glorify war and conflict, but to give thanks for them in particular and to pray for peace with justice throughout our world.

War is a terrible thing. Peace treaties are eventually made, by people negotiating around as it were a table. The only difference from the pre-war state is, who holds the distribution of power. The tragedy is that if that happened earlier, many thousands of lives, livelihoods, human and world resources would have been saved. It isn’t just those in the armed forces who die, but thousands of civilians.

The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was highly controversial. The Lancet puts the death toll there as high as 942, 636, most of whom would be civilians. The present conflict in Afghanistan too has had an unknown death toll of civilians, men and women, the elderly and children killed because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The decision to be involved in an armed conflict even as a peace keeping force is a difficult one. It is never one taken lightly by most governments. So what does all of that mean for us on Remembrance Sunday.

We donate and wear our poppies, but our remembrance needs to be based not only in the past but the present. The work of the British Legion is involved in a practical active remembrance of helping those, who have been on active service and are now in need. The return of Service personal to civilian life can be very difficult even for those not physically injured. The psychological struggle, with memories of what they have seen and what they have been a part of can often lead to alcoholism, depression, other mental health issues and living rough.

For many the Services provided them not only with support but also with comradeship that they will probably never experience again. Being part of this group, where your life depends on each other, where you are thrown together in difficult situations, where you have also celebrated when you can, that cannot be replaced. Wearing a uniform, gave them an identity and people looked up to them. For many life after the forces, results in not coping and descending into chaos. In Bristol, without really trying, Ken Hames, a former SAS major found 98 ex-forces personnel homeless, in the Hostels. He started the Forces Self Build scheme, which works in partnership with other groups, to not only provide a home, but the work restores their self respect, the will to live and provides some comradeship as they work together. Remembrance is an active thing we are called to do now. It is not just to do with the past.

In our Gospel today, taken from St. John we have Jesus calling his disciples friends. “You are my friends, if you do what I command you. You did not choose me, but I choose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. This is my command: Love each other”. John places this passage in the context of the Last Supper, the last meal with his friends, Judas has already left to betray him. Jesus tells his disciples, his followers, his friends, that they are part of the love, the comradeship of being held together and individually in God’s love.

We, as Jesus followers are called to love and care for one another, in our community here at All Saints, and not just here, but amongst our family and friends, our society, our world. We are called to do what he commands and to love one another. Love we know can be enriching and life giving, it also can be costly as we stand up for what we know is true and what we believe is right. Following Jesus, means being prepared to stand up for what we know to be just, not only for ourselves but for others in our world.

Jesus talks about “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”. Jesus is about to lay down his life for us all and that means not just us but for those, we regard as enemies.

Jesus was involved in the ultimate conflict with evil, it cost him his life, a cost which won the victory of life after death. We are called also to resist and to fight evil. For most of us that won’t involve armed conflict, but the more subtle challenges we experience in our everyday lives. We need not to underestimate them, as it is the little things, that lead to the build up of power in corrupt regimes.

Here and now God calls us to gather around the table in what for us is the ultimate remembrance. Jesus took the bread and the wine and blessed them and told his followers to do this in remembrance of him. The remembrance is not a past event, but one now today that we enter into and are part of. As we receive and share in the bread and the wine, Jesus himself gives us his grace to go out to follow his command, to love one another.

Sister Anita CSC

All Saints' Clevedon