Let us not forget

Homily for Remembrance Sunday 13 November 2022 at Horninglow

In the mid 1980s I visited Moscow and what was then Leningrad. I learnt that the Russians lost more people in WW2 than the UK, US and Germany combined. I have a granddaughter in the US. I see how US society values its servicemen and veterans. It puts us to shame. I have a daughter, a son and many dear friends in the Republic of Ireland and I worked there for 19 years, three as a Church of Ireland rector. Their focus on 11 November is different from ours. 

So not surprisingly, I have confused attitudes today. They include 

  • embarrassment that we’re raking over the past, and keeping open the wounds, revelling in jingoism.
  • incredulity that we English delude ourselves thinking that we won WW2 unaided.
  • anger at the waste of life.
  • recollection of the camaraderie that bad times can bring. It’s understandable that people feel that the war years were the best of their lives—if they survived.
  • shame at our involvement in war, particularly in Ireland—and that is not over yet.

But whatever is buried away in our minds, today we recall those who have died in what is called the service of their country. Those who obeyed orders. 

Now, let’s not restrict this to the two world wars of the 20th century. Let us not forget that our women and men have died in Korea, Balkans, Falklands, Cyprus, Middle East, Egypt, Africa, Ireland. Iraq and Afghanistan, where a poppy has a different meaning. 

Let us not forget people of every race and tongue who have died and continue to die in war:  Syria, Ukraine, Africa—in fact just about everywhere.

Let us not forget those who wait. It was a woman of Derbyshire and Staffordshire who brought home to me the effects on those who wait at home. Vera Brittain of Buxton and Newcastle under Lyme lost her fiancé, brother, friends, So let us remember too the bereaved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, lovers, friends.

We sanitise war by thinking of the dead. It is easier. It costs nothing. We don’t have to provide medical care for the dead like we do for the maimed. We don’t have to worry about the lacerations, the amputations, the psychological scars when we consider the dead. Who was it said, if you want to forget about the nastiness of an event, arrange an act of commemoration and then forget about it? Let us not forget that behind the ceremony today there are countless stories of real continuing human tragedy. 

Are we just going to stop at remembering? Are we going to pray that things will change? Do we expect a sky pixie to sort problems that we humans have brought upon ourselves?

Perhaps it is we who need to change. 

What causes warfare is the notion that we are right and others are wrong—that we must impose our will on others. Individuals fight. Groups fight. Nations fight—all because one side wants to impose its will on others. And at the root of this is pride and vanity—not just theirs but yours and mine too. It’s unfashionable to use the word sin, but sin is what it is—the sin of the individual and the sin of the world. 

There is a solution. Micah told us what it is: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Or in the words of another translation, “do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love.  And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously”. Don’t misunderstand “humble” or “humility”. They’re not about grovelling, they’re about being realistic in knowing your strengths and weaknesses, recognising your failings and—yes—not taking yourself too seriously. 

Micah spoke, Jesus showed.

“Simple” you might say, but oh how difficult it is to quash egocentric pride that makes us justify our views at the expense of those of others.

You might say “surely we should fight oppression and injustice, with weapons if necessary”. And as it happens that’s what I say—that fighting for justice is love in action. But others would not, for it’s possible to use Christian doctrine to support both points of view.

I leave you with a thought. If I say I am the best, the greatest, people call me ridiculous. If we say we are the best, people call us patriots.

Let us not forget that war comes from within the human mind—yours and mine. Kyrie eleison.

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