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8 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday: 100 years

Richard Blake (LT pics 2016) Richard Blake Church member
Remembrance Sunday 2018 banner

Remembrance Day. But who wants to remember war – and all that suffering? And anyway, wasn’t it all a very long time ago? Surely it’s time to forget! Well, that may depend on what you think we are remembering.

One hundred years ago on Armistice Day – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 – the guns fell silent after four dreadful years of conflict. The fearful Great War ended. Millions worldwide had died. Millions more, with health undermined by war, would perish in the flu epidemic that began months before the fighting ended.

Britain had good reason to rejoice when the fighting stopped. It had lost a million men, but nowhere near the massive death-toll of Russia, Germany or France. It had not suffered invasion and conquest, or the ferocious terms of peace that tore into Russia, or the oppressive occupation endured by many Belgians and French, or the violent conflicts of the Balkans. A whole nation was grateful that it had survived in freedom.

Much changed with this First World War. Four great empires fell. Europe’s dominance came to an end. The USA was now a world power. A revolutionary new creed took over Russia. New hopes stirred across the Middle East, in Ireland, India, Poland, the Balkans and many other lands. Could a new international order keep peace amongst the nations? It was surely worth a try.

Tyne Cot Cross of Sacrifice (CC2 © Andy Bailey - Flickr)

We rightly remember the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands in the Great War – mostly young men around 20 years old in uniform – the price of national freedom. We cannot forget the even larger number of our citizens and allies who died in the Second World War to protect this nation from a yet more savage creed of racism and hatred. Many were women, children and civilians. The freedoms we enjoy were dearly bought.

Remembrance Day is never a time for nationalistic triumph. The spirit of the day isn’t about a celebration of victories. Few in Britain now even know about the 100-day campaign that began at Amiens and brought the Great War to an end. Instead, we rightly mourn the global loss of life. That includes our allies and the people we fought against. Tears and pain, fear and loss, the cries of orphaned children are everywhere the same and stir our pity and compassion.

Men and women dreamt that the Great War might end all war. But wars are caused by people and their greed and pride and callousness. The map of the world was changed, but not the human heart. Is there then no hope for humanity? The Christian message tells how, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (John 3:16). Jesus laid down his life on our behalf, to make it possible for us to be forgiven and accepted by Almighty God. Our Creator wants to make us new people by his Spirit. That’s something vital to remember!

And let’s recall how war raised deep questions of right and wrong. Some Christians felt they should join up and fight, while others believed no follower of Jesus should ever turn to force. My own father, strong in faith, volunteered to serve at sea when still short of his 16th birthday. My great uncle from an equally devout family did heavy labouring in France without a weapon in his hand until he was killed in action. And both were serving God.

Poem illustration -

Some questioned whether the Bible’s loving God could possibly exist when they saw the carnage and horrors of war. Others learned to cling more fervently to the ever-present Lord to bring them through the valley of the shadow of death into his everlasting Kingdom. A Coldstream Guardsman who fought throughout the First World War was writing to his future wife from the front line in June 1915; he could not say where he was but instead he gave as his address “TRENCHES”. He wrote, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place. Gen. 28.16’

That’s a word of faith and hope for all who struggle – maybe you today? This Remembrance Day, let’s think about the One who died for people of every race to give us peace with God. Once reconciled to him, he makes his followers want reconciliation – turning enemies to friends! Surely that’s worth remembering.


Image credits:

(1) “Tyne Cot Cross of Sacrifice”: some rights reserved by Andy Bailey - https://www.flickr.com/andybailey/ - shared under a Creative Commons licence.

(2) “Grandad’s Poem”: all rights reserved by the owner; used by kind permission.

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