At the 11 hour on the 11 day of the 11 month, exactly one hundred years ago today, at this precise moment, the guns fell silent. And in that silence the hope was born that this so-called ‘war to end all wars’ would never happen again, that the hubris, pride and arrogance that caused it would never resurface and that the 20 million lives lost would not be for nothing.
This act of remembrance which we gather for every year has of course a special poignancy today – it is something we must do, wear our poppies, gather in silence – and for many of us the reasons are personal, as we commemorate members of our own families who are among those countless dead. And so the guns fell silent – only they didn’t, and they haven’t and they aren’t.
That same cynicism of cigar-smoking, brandy swilling generals that sent thousands of men over the top like cannon fodder to instant and painful death without any thought of who they were, their families and where they came from is still alive and well today.
My sister in the ministry, Rev. Angela, wrote in the Hinckley Times this week that in remembrance today we not only remember their sacrifice but all the times we got it wrong. We must remember our own mistakes if we are to move forward.
Those mistakes are still being made, that pride and hubris still exists, internationally, nationally and personally. Our country which prides itself on its sense of honour and justice has in many ways shamed their memory.
Much of our economy is enhanced by the arms industry which makes over 7 billion pounds every year from the sale of weapons to countries often of dubious integrity. Trillions of pounds are spent on the creation of a weapons system that could destroy the whole planet in a week. How can we lament the effects of war if we are profiting from the sale of the means of promoting it? How can we pray for peace when we are producing the very means of destroying it?
This is the greatest hypocrisy. We have also created a so-called ‘hostile environment’ to actively prevent those who are feeling the effects of war today, the butchering of their families, the destruction of their homes, fleeing for their very lives, from finding safety and asylum here, because we feel they are just ‘migrants’ and a drain on our economy.
I ask you, how many of you standing here in front of me today have actually met a refugee face to face and listened to their story? How can we make judgments about them when we have never met them? How can we turn them away when they have escaped the very thing we are commemorating today?
The words read to us by the Rev. Dimitri were chosen specially for today from the very earliest days of the Christian Church: “Where do these wars and battles between you begin?” asks the apostle James.
Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting within you? You want something and you can’t have it so you are prepared to kill to get it” We have developed what we might call a ‘culture of entitlement’ which tells us that we can and must have anything we want whenever we want it, even if it is at the expense of others. Every angry word, every selfish thought or action has shamed the memory of these men who sought no more than to serve, a thought becoming increasingly alien to our thinking.
Every complaint, every outrage or outburst, every time we blind ourselves to the sufferings of others with an over concern for our own profit and welfare, we dishonour those who gave so much so that we could be free from all of this. We can only honour their dying by our living, and we do so by rooting out every drop of self-interest within us so that we can open our hearts and minds to others and live peacefully and justly with them.
The Christian faith which frames the lives of so many of us, tells us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to the world’s salvation – the gospel of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness, the gospel of putting others before ourselves even at great cost, as did he who gave away his whole life so that the world could be saved from itself.
This is the message of truth for all times – you find your life only when you have lost it for others – a message that is more appropriate and necessary today than it ever has been. No amount of flag waving, poppy-wearing, wreath laying, or all too brief moments of silence can ever truly honour their memory, when deep down our own needs and interests remain of paramount importance.
It is only in the way we shape our lives today, allow our thinking to be changed, our hearts to be touched and our attitudes to be transformed, that we can create any lasting memorial to them. We can only honour their dying in our living, which surely will be our pledge to them today and for ever."