This is a copy of my talk given on Remembrance Sunday 2016. My Bible Readings were Deuteronomy 4:32-39, 5:15a & John 15:12-14.
We all have special occasions that we like to remember don’t we? Birthdays? Holidays? Anniversaries? When you get to a certain age you have lots of memories and sometimes it’s impossible to remember them all! I’ve brought along a few items that have special memories for me:
- My first single/45: Snowbird by Anne Murray (1970)
- My first CD: Raintown by Deacon Blue (1988)
- A Bible presented to me when I left HMP Liverpool (1995)
- A Rugby Ball signed by Saracens players (1997)
- A Seahawks hat as a memento of attending Super Bowl XLIX (2015)
There’s one more thing that is special, not only to me, but to each of us here this morning – and most of us are wearing one – a Poppy. An important reminder of the suffering and sacrifice made by ordinary men and women who gave their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others. We wear our Poppies with pride, whatever FIFA might have to say, so that we don’t forget what took place on our behalf!
Remember: What You Were!
The Israelites had a problem of forgetfulness. You may remember how they’d been captured and taken to Egypt as slave labour – probably building the Pyramids. The Bible tells us that God heard their cries of desperation and chose Moses to lead the people in a great deliverance that we call the Exodus. It’s an incredible story of Moses leading his people to freedom through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land.
But, incredible as it seems, they were so caught up with their ‘journey in the wilderness’ they forgot their miraculous deliverance. That’s why, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He said these words: Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Deuteronomy 5:15). They were to ‘remember’ the past so that they might better understand the present and look to a brighter future. They were to remember so they wouldn’t forget.
Remember: What Happened!
We know Pharaoh was a cunning and stubborn ruler who desperately wanted to keep his source of cheap labour. Moses tried to persuade Pharaoh to ‘let his people go’ but he wouldn’t change his mind. God had to show Pharaoh that he meant business and so He sent several plagues: frogs; locusts, boils, blood etc., to persuade him to think again – all to no avail.
The final plague was the passing of the Angel of Death on the first-born. Moses told the people that the only way of escape was to sacrifice a perfect lamb and daub the blood on the doorposts of each of their homes and then the Angel of Death would pass over – this was the sign for the Israelites to make their escape.
Sounds quite barbaric doesn’t it?
But no more barbaric than the horrors of war – especially on this 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It’s impossible to comprehend that, by the end of the first day, 1 July 1916, the British had 57,470 casualties – the bloodiest day in British military history. When the offensive ended on 18 November 1916, the British had suffered around 420,000 casualties, the French about 200,000 and Germany about 465,000. There were also 73,000 missing victims (Thiepval Memorial in France). To put this into some kind of context, that’s almost twice the population of Billericay.
During WW2 alone, 22 million military personnel lost their lives, but even more incredible than that is the fact that 28 million civilians lost their lives. Another amazing statistic is that more than 130 million people have died, or been injured, as a result of war since 1945. Its sobering to be reminded that nearly 200 million people have been killed or maimed as a result of war in just over 60 years – without a doubt, the bloodiest century in the history of the world.
I often wonder what the true cost may have been if evil regimes were not stood against as they have been down the years? But it’s because of that loss of life, that it’s right for us to remember those who fought for our freedom and it’s right that we honour their sacrifice. We remember so we don’t forget.
Yet, here in 2016, we have forgotten. We still haven’t learnt the lessons of history. War continues in Syria, Iraq and in many other places – and the effects are seen on a daily basis across the world as Armed Forces, civilians and refugees suffer the gruesome consequences of war.
Remember: What We Should Be
Immediately after the end of WWII churches, all across our land, were full as thankful people experienced freedom and entered their ‘Promised Land’ of peacetime. But this soon faded. One of the tragedies of humanity is that people, who were created by God, and for God, should now be living without God and, as a result, we find ourselves living in a godless world. It’s ironic that we are responsible for some of the most awful atrocities that one human being could impose on another. It was never meant to be that way.
God told the Israelites to remember what they should be and perhaps we, in some small way, need to remember who we are and give the right message to those around us. Being a Christian in today’s world isn’t easy – you don’t need me to tell you that! We are challenged about our morals and values and priorities. It isn’t easy to stand up for truth and for what is right. It can make us unpopular at school, in the workplace and in society. It’s a costly business being a Christian.
But in being distinctively different, we remember the deeper things of God and of this world; of things that divide families; of racial and cultural differences that separate nations and communities and of the need, not only for peace, but for the justice upon which true peace is built, the justice of God and the love of God that shows mercy to those who seek it – and even those who don’t.
When Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptist hailed him as: the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), a clear reference to the blood of a perfect lamb which had being daubed on the doorposts of the Israelites – as I mentioned earlier.
Someone once said: A soldier died for your freedom, but Jesus died for your soul. In John 15, Jesus said: Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. It’s right that we remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us and it’s right to honour those who sacrificed their lives so that we, and other nations, might live in freedom. We remember so we don’t forget.
This time last year I went to Chelmsford Cathedral to hear General Lord Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff, recalling some of his own doubts and fears that soldiers, experience in their tours of duty commented that there are no atheists on the battlefield! (The article Why our soldiers don’t want God taken out of Remembrance Day is well worth a read).
Some people believe that Remembrance Sunday is outdated, that as a religious observance it should no longer be practised or that it simply isn’t relevant today. Some even suggest that Remembrance Sunday glorifies war. But that misses the point of Remembrance Sunday altogether.
Remembrance Sunday is a time when we recall those who gave themselves for us and to remember why it was they did what they did.It’s a time to remember the horror of war and vow ‘never again’. It’s a time to dedicate ourselves anew to living in such a way that we don’t break faith with those who died to bring peace to the world. It’s a time to commit ourselves once again to the struggle against evil – the struggle against the very things that to lead to war in the first place.
May each one of us determine, with God’s help, to make this Remembrance Sunday a time when we: Remember what we were, Remember what happened and Remember what we should be. We remember so we don’t forget.
A Special Prayer for Remembrance Sunday
Whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
And bring the families of the nations,
Divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
To be subject to his just and gentle rule;
Who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. Amen