Sermon for the Civic Service of Remembrance 2021 – by Revd Canon Rachel

Why are you here today?

You might think that’s a pretty stupid question.  The Mayor kindly invited us all to participate today, obviously. We join with people up and down the country and across the world in marking this Remembrance Sunday.

Look at the standards Rachel. Look at the poppies.  Hear the bugler and feel the weight of 103 years of heavy silences kept.

But my question stands.  Why are we here today?

Perhaps I should focus that more closely and ask, why are we still doing this?

I wonder what each of your answers would be if we had the time to talk it though over a pint.

In my lifetime I have memories of lost men. Master Billy, who always looked lost and never did anything but work in the garden – changed by the experience of a war that was over more than 50 years before my birth.

Stories of relatives who built tanks, an air raid warden, a couple of army chaplains, an astonishing great aunt who worked at the Nuremburg war trials. 

The death of a man I did not know in the Falklands, the brother I think of a lovely lady in the parish where I grew up. The shock and disbelief that after nearly 40 years we needed to add another name to our war memorial – that history was not history – but here, grief palpable.

A church full of young men in dessert fatigues – back when the Duke’s Regiment was still the Duke’s – their energy, vibrancy and life like static in the air – then lighting the candle for Peace in the Regimental Chapel when news of fatalities broke.

These are just a handful of my memories, and I know each one of you carries your own.  For me these are just some of the reasons why I think we’re still doing this.

Our reasons are personal, visceral, people we have known, grief we have borne, regret and repentance we must breathe through every day, because we are here, and they are gone.

The greater reason I fear that we are here, though, is that we, together, as communities and nations have yet to achieve that which we promise, year in year out, as we stand at war memorials, in churches, at gardens of remembrance.  We have not yet made peace – the world toils in conflict.  We have not yet healed the wounds of war – veterans charities still fight for funding to care for those who are scarred in body, mind and spirit.  We have not yet secured a just future for all humanity – we compromise in fear for our own security, while the planet groans, while the evidence tells us there is enough for all to live if we had courage to act.

And the bible says:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,

and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore[1]

As I stood with our Mayor, Cllr Nigel and many others at the war memorial in Greenhead Park on Armistice Day – as I prayed for peace, healing and justice – a little girl, no more than three I’d guess, wove her way through the semi-circle of the sombre suited and silent.  She wasn’t making a fuss, she was just looking for her mum – and my heart rejoiced to see her do it.

Because the peace and freedom that so many gave their lives in the name of was not an abstract political theory.  It was the growing of curious and confident little girls. It was the walking of dogs through the park.  It was the freedom to live normal, ordinary, uneventful lives, to love, to give, to pursue happiness and to comfort one another in sadness.

If we had already succeeded in creating the world our fallen sacrificed themselves for – where such simple lives were something all could live – we wouldn’t need to be here. 

Our very living, overflowing with justice, with equity, with fairness and opportunity would sing our thanks and honouring of those who did not live to see such peace. 

We would not need to stand and once again speak of peace, healing and justice, because our very existence would be imbued with a peace which is more than an absence of violence.

We are here today to remember – and in remembering to be spurred to action.  Those swords wont beat themselves into ploughshares.  That’s our job.  We will not learn war anymore, we’ve been learning it for millennia and it hasn’t made everything OK yet, has it?  It does seem we need some more practice, more learning of peace though. The peace which is love of God and of our neighbour[2]. The peace which is prayer for those who would call themselves our enemies[3]. The peace which scripture tells us the world cannot give[4], but for which the transforming life, death and resurrection of Jesus set us a pattern. 

When we try and work out what peace really looks like every ordinary day – then we should remember them .

When we make the life style sacrifices we will no doubt have to make to save the planet – then we should remember them

When we vote for leaders locally, regionally, nationally, globally – voting not for any tribe but for wisdom, integrity, justice, equity, courage –  then we should remember them

At the going down of the sun and in the morning – but I pray not just at the going down of the sun and in the morning – we will remember them.

Amen.

[1] Micah 4.1-4

[2] Deut. 6.5 Mark 12.30-31. Luke 10.27

[3] Matthew 5.44 Luke 6.65

[4] John 14.27

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