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Remembering War, Remembering Peace, Remembering Why.

Pentecost 25, Common Lectionary Year B

Psalm 78:1-8

©2018 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

On the 11th of November, at 11 am,
the Armistice, signed at Compiegne in France,
ended the first world war of the 20th century.
It was a war which cost the lives of nearly 20 million soldiers and civilians,
injured millions more, and scarred survivors and their offspring for generations.[1]
A year later, George V began what is now a 99 year old tradition,
of pausing “from all our normal activities” on the 11th day of the 11th month,
to remember the price paid for peace, and for freedom.

Some of you remember the powerful Remembrance Day memorial
that took shape around the Tower of London in 2014, *
to commemorate the centenary of the start of that First World War.
I recall the mixture of awe and horror
at the sea of blood red pouring into the moat;
one poppy, I thought for every person
who died in that war,
but no,
there were just under 900,000 all told,
in other words, one poppy per 20 dead.
That war, which was supposed to end all wars,
has turned out to be just one of many conflicts
that have turned the ground red since,
costing the lives of between 108 and 187 million souls
(depending which history you read)[2].

I don’t know about you,
but I cannot get my head around such numbers,
my heart is numbed by the enormity of them.
Poppies, grave markers, candles, **
they try but fail to bridge the chasm of comprehension,
that each one is the human tale of hope, and love,
war, and loss.

Which is why we do this.
Why we take time to ‘re-member’.
The psalmist has it right when she pleads with us
to tell the generations at our knees,
and those yet unborn,the stories of our ancestors,
the stories of God’s presence, of God’s guiding presence in times of horror
such as these wars that did not end all war,
but from which we must learn the wisdom
for living the future with more peace.

And it is why I am grateful
to all of you who sent me emails, photos, clippings, stories
of the way War has touched your families.
Thank you to Elaine, Renate, Cathie, Marg,
Jennifer, Joan, Sam, Ernie, Jeanne and Charlie, Marian, Valerie, Bill, Bob.
Through your images and notes, you help us all
to put a face or a name to each the poppies, to the white crosses.
You let the voices of a generation now gone speak to our present and to our future
of their fidelity to a dream of freedom,of wholeness for humanity,
of the love that outlasted their sacrifices.

Today we sit in a sanctuary, descendants
of those caught on all sides of conflicts,
not just World War I or II, but other wars that have torn every corner of the globe.
Today, has become a day for us to turn towards
the horror, and the scars, the residual trauma,
and the generational fall-out of all war,
in order to pray, and long, and yearn, and dream,
and work for the peace and the freedom
of all humanity, indeed all creation.

The images that appear on the screen now, **
and during the time for offering tell their own stories.
Young men in uniform, not all of whom survived.
Men who fought for their countries, on both sides,
who lost too many friends to bullets, shells, shrapnel or disease.
And the young women in nurses uniforms,
the wives, mothers, daughters left to keep the family farm or shop going.

Poems, letters, socks, and cigars, lockets of hair, crossing
the ocean and the channel to reach loved ones on the front or back home.
These images reach out to generations that for them were yet to be born,
to testify to life. to love.to the effort of living with purpose.
And they speak too to the anguish and agony and horror
that darkens the world when life, or love, or freedom are considered expendable.

This is why we remember.
We remember the horror in order to strive together
for another way, the way of peace with which
to share this global village with one another.
As Justice Rosalie Abella said last night
at a concert to commemorate both the 100th anniversary of the Armistice,
and the horror of Kristallnacht 80 years ago,
“To forget the indignity of the horrors of the past
is to permit their recurrence.
We can never be indifferent.
The banality of evil should never obscure our capacity to see it.”

This is why, we remember, we stand in silence,
remembering stories of which we are not the authors,
nor even the participants,
in order to join ranks with all who have
and the generations yet to come who will spend their lives
in pursuit of the things that make for peace;
to proclaim hope in the face of despair,
to stand for love that can heal hatred,
to offer courage in the face of fear.
To be channels of God’s peace,
telling each new generation,
until all the world shall learn God’s love.

 

 

[1] Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties, specifies 15-19 million deaths (military and civilian) and 23 million wounded military personnel on all sides of the conflict.
[2] See Eric Hobsbawm “War and Peace” Guardian, 2002.

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