As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
Mary Copping, 10 November 2019
Micah 4: 1–5; John 15: 9–17
Remembrance Sunday is an important event in the church calendar, helping us not to forget why we have the freedom that we enjoy today. It reminds us of the peace from war that we’ve experienced here in England and elsewhere bought by those who died. This Sunday is a reminder of those who died in the First and Second World Wars, but also a reminder of those who’ve lost their lives in other conflicts like the Falklands War, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today we will pause to remember the fallen and to say thank you for their sacrifice so we have been able to live in peace.
In our reading from the prophet Micah, God will ‘teach us his ways’ so that ‘we may walk in his paths’ – the paths of love and peace. It is what Jesus in the gospel was talking to his disciples about: that we must love one another as God loves us. And yet, sometimes how difficult it is for us to love, to sacrifice for others, to be totally free of our own plans so that we can give ourselves for others – to make peace not unrest.
The people who died in the two world wars brought us peace and security in this land. It is so good for us and for the young people to be made aware each year of those who died in previous wars. Some schools take groups of children to visit the war graves in France. The children are the ones who will be making important decisions in the years ahead – in business, in parliament – and the more we can remind them and ourselves of the sacrifice that people made in the two world wars, the more we may be able to say ‘the war to end all wars’, as was, sadly, said of World War 1.
We are not here to justify war, or to glorify it, but to acknowledge what people have done for us to bring us peace. Then, as we remember the commitment and sacrifice of others, we can be strengthened in our own resolve to do our part in serving God and others in peace. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (12: 18), ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’, which acknowledges that fact that some who we meet will not want the peace that we pursue; ours is just to do what we can.
Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon is an account of his time as a prisoner of war. In it there is a moving story of the soldiers in a Japanese camp, cruelly treated, who were building a bridge one day when a shovel went missing. The officer in charge was incensed. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced or the soldiers would pay dearly for it, but no one stepped forward to take the blame.
The officer then threatened to shoot all of them if no-one owned up. Finally, one man silently stepped forward from the line. He was beaten by the officer until he died. The men picked up the body of their fallen brother and carried it with them to a second tool check, where it was discovered that no shovel was missing. In fact, it was found that the missing shovel was nothing more than a miscount. The man had sacrificed himself to save his comrades.
The tragedy had a profound effect on the prisoners: word spread throughout the camp that an innocent man was willing to die to save others. The event changed the way the prisoners behaved towards each other – they became more loving, more caring.
This account is often used to illustrate the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Many Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross for us, so that we can be in good, loving relationship with God once more. Jesus loved us enough to go to the cross so that we could know peace and salvation, giving us peace in him. And as his friends, we are to bring that peace and love to others we meet.
There is much about the sacrifice of all those young lives lost in the two world wars, and the old films that have now been given colour make it all look more real than ever and bring home to us even more what those many young people did – how they went to their deaths or returned so badly injured, so that we might live in peace.
We continue to think also of those who have died since then – young men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places – giving up their lives, sacrificing their lives, in death or in great physical impairment or in continued mental anguish over what they have witnessed. This was so for the war veterans from the two world wars and also for those now. We also think of the mothers, wives, girlfriends who made the sacrifice of giving up their loved ones in the two world wars and waited in dread for the postman to bring the telegram to tell them of the death of those loved one. And now, families who still make the sacrifice of waving off their loved ones to war, not knowing how or if they will come back.
We continue to think of those giving up their lives, sacrificing their lives, in death or in great physical impairment or in continued mental anguish over what they have witnessed.
As some of you may know, my husband was in the army for many years – the Royal Hampshire regiment. During the early 70s the regiment did many tours in Northern Ireland when the troubles were greatest. He was away twice on a four-month tour, coming back for four days’ R & R (rest and recuperation) half way through. There were no mobile phones then, so wives and children would queue up at the camp phone box to speak to their husbands or fathers, though the men had to very careful what they told us. When we watched the news, sometimes it would say that a soldier had been killed but the family had yet to be informed. We then had the terrible wait, watching to see if the army chaplain, the padre, would be walking up the path to give us the devastating news. Later on in the 70s we actually lived in Northern Ireland in an army compound for over a year. This sounds worse, but it was actually better, because we knew much more first hand about what was happening with our husbands.
Some of you may have seen the military wives’ choir begun by Gareth Malone, and heard some of their harrowing stories of loss of husbands, or men coming back wounded or emotionally scarred. They continue to suffer.
So, we remember the fallen from the two world wars and thank them for their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of those left behind. We remember also the sacrifice of those still fighting in wars around the world and those left behind. Our part as Christians is to pray for peace, to seek and pursue peace, asking God to help us spread his love and his peace wherever we go. We can do our bit, however small, and in that way honour all those who have given their lives for us. Amen.