Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Remembrance Sunday
November 9, 2014, 4:39 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 9th November 2014

How can we remember what we haven’t experienced? When this annual observance began, those who kept it really did remember the fallen, comrades who had died beside them in their hundreds, or family members who had gone off to war and never returned. Our memorial reminds us how many died from this one small parish.

Nowadays, none of us remembers the Great War, and not very many of us have memories of the Second World War. I can just about remember the sound of air-raid sirens, and travelling by train with my mother, as a very small boy, to visit my father who was in the Navy. Mostly, we just remember reading about, or hearing about, those wars.

Remembering then was personal, a recall of personal experience. Several of Marilyn’s great-uncles fought with the Canadian forces in Flanders. One of them, Arthur Hill, was under-age when he joined up. He was sent to France, and fought at Vimy Ridge. One of his comrades was wounded in no-man’s land between the trenches, and young Arthur was with him. During daylight it was impossible to move without being shot, so they had to lie there for several days until Arthur could help his companion back to the safety of the trenches, though wounded himself. Arthur lived to be nearly ninety, dying in 1986, yet as he lay semi-conscious at the end, his ramblings indicated that in his imagination he was still in the mud and barbed wire of no-man’s-land, just as he had been seventy years before. That is remembering.

jackAnother of Marilyn’s great-uncles, uncle Jack Lyne, was so badly gassed in the trenches that he was sent back to Canada, not expected to live. However, he was sent to a sanatorium on the prairies, where he lived to be over ninety! On the other hand, another uncle Jack, Jack Hibberd ( this is his picture) was killed only weeks before the end of the war in 1918. He was buried nearby, as is uncle Ernest Lyne, the first Jack’s brother, who was killed a few weeks earlier. Killed at the Somme was uncle Frank Byrd, in 1916. He has no known grave, but we have his medals, sent to his family at the end of the war. They are his Service Medal, and the Victory Medal, with the inscription “The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919.”

The Great War was supposed to be “the war that ended all wars”, but sadly it was followed by another World War twenty years later, and lesser wars since. And today, when wars happen in various parts of the world, we can actually see it live on television: in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. We see the bodies of dead soldiers being repatriated, the funeral processions through places not that far from where we are. It has become real again. We have personal memories.

War is wrong, even when it is virtually unavoidable. Jesus has clear (though often unwelcome) guidance: “Love your enemies.” “Agree with your adversary quickly.” “Those that take up the sword will perish by it.” There is nothing about who is in the right in any particular case. There is a struggle, a conflict, but it is not between people. Other people are not to be seen as enemies, but as brothers or sisters, as fellow children of God. What we fight against is what St Paul calls “spiritual wickedness at a high level”, manifesting itself as hatred and cruelty and the desire to retaliate. In the Bible, after Cain killed his brother Abel it was laid down that if anyone should kill Cain, revenge would be seven-fold; later, Cain’s descendant Lamech said, “If Cain was avenged seven times, it shall be seventy times seven for Lamech.” So violence breeds violence, and hatred breeds hatred, and the scale of destruction steadily escalates. But Jesus said, “You shall forgive your brother, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

There is no point in remembering, if we do not learn the right lessons from what we remember. We remember, not in order to inflame old hatreds or a desire for revenge, but in order to motivate ourselves to root out the causes of conflict in ourselves and in others. We cannot afford to be angry and bitter. We cannot afford to let anger and bitterness fester in the hearts of those who believe that they have been injured, believe that they are the victims of injustice. If it is at all true that some at least of those who perished in war were fighting for peace and justice, for “civilisation”, then that is the struggle we must continue: but only in peaceful and just ways.


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