Remembrance Sunday Service Sermon by Revd Alex Pease

Remembrance Service Martyr Worthy 2014

“We will remember them”

We have said several times this morning “we will remember them”. But what does it mean to remember them?

I would like to make 3 points:

  1. HONOUR PAST GENERATIONS

Call me a Philistine but words ‘Art Installation’ don’t exactly thrill me.

But surely the art installation at the Tower of London ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of red’ has captured mood of the nation.

In the centenary year of The First World War, the sheer number of ceramic poppies representing 886,246 the British and Colonial soldiers killed is staggering; of course dwarfed by wounded – perhaps 3 times as many.

What is so striking to me; is not only the vast number of poppies, the vast number of the dead, but also each has been made by hand to represent an individual.

Some stand up to a metre tall. Others just 50 cms off the ground.

Each representing an individual person loved by parents, siblings and perhaps children.  Lost in the conflict.

The poppies wave gently in the breeze.

To mark centenary of the First World War; to remember the dead of this parish, I thought would do a bit of research into the names of the lost. I couldn’t find out as much as I would have liked . But, if you are interested, the copy of the document is on our website.

Where they lived in the parish; what work they did before they volunteered or were called up; the names of their parents.

As I did the research, I had a profound sense of sadness, at the impact that deaths must have had in these villages; in these families.

One family in particular, stands out the Freemantles of Easton who tragically lost both their sons in France on same day in 1914, both serving in the Scots Guards.

One can only imagine horror of news.

But after centenary is over, will we continue to remember them?

There are now no survivors from WW1.  Now have adults for whom WW1 and WW2 are entirely consigned to history – something that their great grandfathers (whom they may never have known) fought.

We need to continue to honour across the generations, the sacrifices made for us. The courage shown by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents and their contemporaries.

We need to carry this torch into the future.  We must not let it go out.

Fortunately, we still have a few of our very precious WW2 generation to learn from.  In this parish, particularly, we have a decorated hero from the War in the North Atlantic, escorting convoys in appalling conditions.

I would ask those of you from that generation to tell your stories of those times to your grandchildren; encourage your children to take your grandchildren to the battlefields and graveyards of Europe; write down your experiences.

I know that various considerations, including modesty, might prevent you, but please can I encourage you try and overcome these constraints, so that our generation and our children’s generation can understand and honour what was done on their behalf.

  1. CARE FOR PRESENT VETERANS AND FAMILIES

I would now like to say something about the conflicts of my generation and today.

Of course we had Northern Ireland and the Falklands; but nothing like the intensity of conflict over such long period as our children’s generation have faced in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

One cannot but have a sense of foreboding unfinished business in our struggle with Islamism may have to face in the future.

When I attend Regimental dinners for my Territorial Army Battalion of The Royal Green Jackets, which I left in 1980s, there is a standing joke “where are your medals Alex?”  “Oh I left them at home”, I lie…   The very same Territorials with whom I used to get lost on Salisbury Plain who stayed in the TA during the last two decades now have rows of decorations.

Yes mine has been a fortunate generation; sandwiched between 2 generations of heroes.

Of course, we must honour the veterans of those conflicts, as well, but there are more practical things we can do for them also.

When we read in the newspapers as many as 10% of prison population and ¼ of homeless are ex-servicemen; there is a suggestion that as a nation we may have let them down in making transition between service and civilian life.

When you see stories on You Tube, speak so fondly of service careers – a time of self-discipline and self-sacrifice.

A time when they aspired to the attitudes described in the reading just heard from John 15:13: “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”.

There are aspects of the attitude of the servicemen of our country which echo the sacrifice which Christ made for all of us.

But what can we do?

Of course, and very importantly, we can give to service charities either with money or time or both.

We can try and help those who are injured in our community in various ways.  In particular perhaps mentoring wounded soldiers as they seek to get back into civilian employment.

But also I think we can be a bit more circumspect in our treatment and attitudes towards the homeless and prisoners, given that so many of them have served their country in a way which we may not have done.

Most importantly can seek to care for and support families of servicemen away on operations.

If not now (given that the Afghan campaign has ended) then in the future.

Two tips from service families:(one of whom lives in the Valley):  When the son or daughter of the household is away on operations, please be tactful.

Don’t, for example: in the hearing of the family, go on about tragic fatalities, dwell on negatives of the situation or be critical about what the forces are doing.

The thought that your neighbours might not value the contribution that they are making;is very upsetting.

Military deployment is a political decision and not something that the armed forces initiate.  And in a democracy we as voters carry that responsibility.

As one family member said to me:

“We need to know that the sacrifices they make are valued and supported, rather than being placed in the wider political context, which often detracts from the amazing work they did out there”.

Secondly do not turn up as a stranger unexpectedly at the door – always make an appointment.  Hearts may leap thinking that this is the knock they will get from the man who brings bad news.

Most importantly we can pray for our servicemen; pray for those on operations and pray for their families left at home.

  1. BREAK THE CYCLE OF CONFLICT IN THE FUTURE

I would like to say something about the causes of conflict.

A nation is a collection of individuals in one sense.  Who we are as characters is reflected in who we vote for and thus in the decisions that our country makes.

We thus hold the seeds of peace or conflict, in our own hands.

The decisions we take which make us who we are, also shape our national character and thus world events.

If we all make a point of forgiving our neighbours in our villages and letting go of resentments against them, however costly that may be; then perhaps we can become a nation which does so also.

If we forgive, we break the cycle of resentment which so often can lead to conflict.

Behaving with grace – i.e undeserved generosity is a profoundly Christian act and can make huge differences in the world.

Sometimes the acts of individuals can have a profound effect.

After the Enniskillen bombing in Northern Ireland in 1987 Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in the blast said:”I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge,” He said he forgave her killers and added: “I shall pray for those people tonight and every night.”

That statement had a profound effect. Historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, “No words in more than 25 years of violence in NI had such a powerful, emotional impact.”

The peace process followed.

We need to think of Gordon Wilson and Marie when we argue with people and carry grudges which last for years and sometimes across generations.

If he could do that, what on earth are we doing being resentful about some trivial dispute with our neighbours?

If we as individuals can make even small paces to follow in the steps of Gordon Wilson, in the steps of Christ, who forgave those who had crucified him, then perhaps our national character will change and our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will not also have to go throughthe terrible suffering and sacrifice of previous generations.

Amen

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