Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hope, Trust and Pray

At 9 she went to work for half a day at the Mill. At 11 she left school finally and worked full time in the Mill. A keen church-goer and Christian she joined the St John Ambulance Brigade. She wsa in her 20's when the First World War broke out.

She worked five and a half full days in the Mill and then at lunch time on Saturday made the five mile walk across the moors to the war hospital in Keighley. She worked through until Sunday evening before walking home ready to start another week in the mill. The irony was that she was weaving the cloth in the woolen mill of Harden, just outside Bradford, that would be taken to Leeds to be made into uniforms for the very soldiers who arrived by train straight from the Western Front in that hospital in Bingley. 30 years ago when I met her she told me the story. But she would not describe what she saw in those wards. That memory was too troubling.

He lived opposite the creamery in Minsterley and to my shame I cannot recall his name.

Though not by name, I still want to remember him this Remembrance Sunday. He was a wonderful character: into his 90’s by the time I visited him he had a marvellous recall of his younger years and life in the village and the countryside around. But there was one subject I could not draw him on. He had fought in the trenches of the first world war. It was too painful to recall. He wouldn’t be drawn. But what he said I will always remember. ‘Never again!’ ‘We must not let it happen again’.

In conversation with Felicity’s sister earlier this week we were recalling their grandfather. Another whose company I enjoyed when I was young … but he wouldn’t be drawn on the way in which he had got the war wound in the First World War that had troubled him ever since. Angela was recalling him saying he would go to church the rest of the year … but not on Remembrance Sunday. The memories hurt too much.

This week the BBC have run a series of short clips in the 10-00 news of the very last few survivors of that first world war. This was shown on Friday night. [We watched an interview with Henry Allingham, at 111, Britain's oldest survivor of the First World War]

When asked what he thought about war today, he replied most movingly,

"I hope, trust and pray there will never be another war!"

What passion!

How do we honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the wars our country has been involved in over this last 100 years?

I want to offer three texts.

First, the words with which we began our service.

1) We honour the memory of those who hope, trust and pray there will never be another war by comforting and consoling those who are the victims of war

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. (2 Corinthians 1)

To bring comfort and consolation to those who experience suffering is at the heart of what we are called to do. The full care of those who are the victims of war should be the responsibility of the state and not left to the provision of charity. How right it is for the Royal British Legion to campaign for the proper care of those who are the victims of war now.

That poignant advertisement which depicts a recent war widow hand in hand with the shape of her husband depicted in poppies is a powerful and challenging reminder of the loss of life now. The very nature of the warfare in Afghanistan is reminiscent, we are told, of the warfare of the first world war. The injury, not just in the lost of bereavement, or physical injury but also psychological injury is immense among a new generation of those in the services.

Only last night on Radio 4 it was said that since the end of the Falklands War 300 of those servicemen who served in that conflict have committed suicide. Do we count those among the number we remember today? Of course, we should. And yet it is so easy to forget. What about the network of family, relatives and friends of those who have been bereaved: aren't they the ones we are remembering today?

To all of these we owe comfort, care and consolation. That comfort must be given properly and through formal channels, and not simply left to the whim of charitable giving.

At the same time we must recognise all victims caught up in war need care, concern and consolation wherever they are and whoever they are.

2) We honour the memory of those who hope, trust and pray there will never be another war as we actively seek reconciliation

The worst tragedy of war is that it breeds itself. It becomes self-perpetuating. And that is a tragedy we are in danger of seeing unfold in the wars we are engaged in now.

They speak of winning hearts and minds … war is a blunt weapon in the response to terrorism that has the danger of breeding itself, and breeding worse animosity than there has been before.
To honour the memory of those who still to this day ‘hope, trust and pray that there will be no more war’ we need to take seriously the task Paul goes on to define a little later in 2 Corinthians 5:18

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;

It starts with each of us – in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,

When folk from church went to Franzi and Lukas’ wedding in Dresden a couple of years ago, the big church in the central square of Dresden was still being renovated. Destroyed in the firestorm that followed the bombing of Dresden it had lain in ruins for the whole history of Eastern Germany;. When we went to Dresden a month ago to celebrate Andrea and Thomas's wedding the church had been completed and on Sunday morning there were queues to get in to the morning service.

It was moving to see the charred remains of the cross that had been on the top of the building prior to the war, and to see the new cross in pride of place. And to know that it had been presented as a token of reconciliation between the people of this country and of Germany was somehow deeply moving.

To work for reconciliation in the wake of war is so vitally important … and has been so important throughout Europe in the last sixty and more years. Reconciliation is the task that has to be the priority of any who take seriously the call of Jesus Christ.

Working towards peace and reconciliation is important now in the middle of the conflicts that go on. Mary and I have applied to go on a course run by the Tantur Institute on the ouskirts of Behtlehem to see the work of reconciliation going on that is the inspiration of that ecumenical study centre standing between Jerusalemm and Bethlehem. Mark Evans in his church in Belvedere and Erith has links with Andrew White who has served in ministry in Baghdad – it is moving to hear of the work of reconciliation he has been engaged in with other church leaders, working with other faith communities too.

To honour those who hope, trust and pray that there is not another war, the commitment to reconciliation is paramount.

3) To honour the memory of those who hope, trust and pray there never will be another war we must LEARN peace

And the third passage comes from Micah chapter 4.

"they shall beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks."

I was prompted to turn to it by one of the comments Felicity made in a text home from Mozambique. There she and her team met the General Secretary of the Mozambique Christian Council of Churches. He told them of a project those churches had been involved in following the awfulness of the war in Mozambique.

People were invited to bring in weapons and they would be given tools in return.

It reminded me of a wonderful exhibition I had been to in the British Museum, at the heart of which in the Great Court of the British Museum was a wonderful sculpture – the Tree of Life. It had been created by a group of artists working in Mozambique using some of those weapons that had been exchanged for tools.

The vision of Micah is on the one hand a dream for God’s age – but it is the age of God that breaks in now. This is the kingdom of God that Micah envisages … but Jesus ushers in the kingdom of God. That means that these words shape what we do now as Christians.

The telling line, however, is not so much ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, but the one that comes next: ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war no more'.

Learn war no more. Peace making is as complex as war … and as has been discovered in Iraq maybe even more complex.

Maybe to honour the memory of those who hope, trust and pray that there is not another war, we should invest as much money ... No, we must invest more money in ‘learning peace-making’ than we do in the manufacture of weapons of war.

To honour the memory of those who hope, trust and pray that there never will be another war we must comfort and console all who are victims of war, must commit ourselves anew to the work of reconciliation and we must learn the art of peace making.

That's quite some challenge ... and yet is fundamental to the future peace we long for in the world of 2007.

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