Sermon – Remembrance Day
We have been blessed with two of the best loved passages in all of Scripture this morning. I am hardly likely to do either of them justice. But this is Remembrance Sunday and so my thoughts are coloured by it.
In fact there has been a particular bee buzzing around in my bonnet these past few weeks as those who have read this month’s newsletter may see. As we approach the Centenary there seems to be a divergence of approach between what I heard our Ambassador speak of last Thursday and with which I agree, the centrality of Remembrance in the commemorations, and what I hear from local politicians and the press. I hope I’m wrong but without picking on them especially, Flanders Today were back ‘on message’ this last week with a piece on three Nobel Peace Prize winners visiting Ieper. We were told that they were there for a Symposium on ‘Science for Peace’, and we had Minister President Kris Peeters as saying “I wish to send a universal message of peace into the world”. Yet read through the whole article and you find the symposium is actually entitled ‘the role of science in trauma treatment and the transformation of societies’; that’s a bit different from ‘science for peace’. And again when we read the Nobel Prize winners own comments we find one say, “We must not allow ourselves to forget this history”, and another, “I realise that all those who lie buried here are all mothers’ sons. It hurts like hell to realise this”. There seems to be a shift in emphasis away, in some official circles, from the remembrance of the cost of Belgium’s freedom, paid for in young lives, to slogans of “Peace” and “no more war”.
Now, both these statements in themselves are very laudable, and something to which I believe we all subscribe. But to take away history and the cost of peace, and the price of freedom without which there can be no peace, seems to me a dangerous thing.
I was at the new Holocaust Museum in Mechelen recently, an intensely difficult visit. As is appropriate to accurate recording of history, the exhibition, on four floors records the history of the 25,000 Jews and others who were rounded up and deported to the concentration camps of the Reich in all its harrowing, drab detail. On the train there, I had been discussing with Frederick this issue of the air-brushing out of history and was shocked to find there on one wall an extensive quote talking of the rise of totalitarianism, saying exactly the same thing. I wish I could have recorded it. I recall the saying, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it”. It is one reason why we remember – just one!
But I really wanted to get that prelude off my chest to ground what I wanted to get to, and in particular Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed (happy) are the peacemakers.” To begin with it puts before us the truth that peace doesn’t just happen, it is made. And it isn’t necessarily in an environment of peace that peace is made. I am reminded of that lovely hymn, now lapsed into disuse, “Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?” Somewhere in my transition from atheism to Christianity was, perhaps strangely, the recognition of the active reality of evil. Walking round the Holocaust museum is a vivid reminder of the force of that active reality. Every day’s news is a reminder. We need to name our enemy. It is no wonder that St. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians states “When they say, ‘There is peace and security’ then sudden destruction will come upon them”, and writing to the Ephesians he takes military analogies when he talks about us being able to “withstand on that evil day.”
Jesus had things to say about peace, yes, and He knew its cost. And He paid for ours with His life. And week by week we gather to remember and take bread and wine to proclaim His death until He comes.
Just so, and once a year we gather to remember all these other young men whose blood soaked this soil.
Delivering his speech last night at the opening of the new visitors’ centre at Plugstreet, the Wallon Minister-President broke into English to make this statement: “You cannot forgive, if you forget”.
Time for the last word, perhaps, from Jeremiah: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace”, when there is no peace.
Lest we forget.