Remembrance Day 2016 at the Princeton Cenotaph

Remembrance Day 2016

            We gather to remember the sacrifices that too many were called upon to make in War, at home and abroad, military and civilian.  We remember particularly the Service men and women who gave their lives in the First, and the Second World Wars, the Korean War and in Afghanistan.  And no less those who were injured and those who had their lives irrevocably damaged by the conflicts.  We remember not only the warriors who fought on land, on the high seas, and in the air, but the merchant marine, those in the Resistance, and the peace keepers also risking and losing their lives in the valiant effort to save others even today.

Wars are terrible things.  Wars are often thrust upon peaceful peoples who must rise up in their own defense to overcome an Aggressor.  At those times there is no alternative but for a call to arms.  The prophet Joel spoke about that centuries ago, he said  “Prepare [for] war, stir up the warriors.  Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up.  Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears;  let [even] the weakling say,  ‘I, am a warrior’”  (Joel 3:9-10).  Joel called for a Just War – a time when men and women are called to act honourably and defend the freedoms of a Just Society, and they do it in the face of great Evil.  We can never accept Evil.  To quote Winston Churchill  “You have enemies ?  Good !  That means you stood for something in your life”.  This is what these men and women did, they stood for what is right !

Since time immemorial we have written a very sad history of conflict.  We have fought battles;  battles first between families, then tribes, then nations, ideologies and even religions.  Combat has often been on defined lines, epitomised by the Thin Red Line, when soldiers stood in rows, not far apart, facing each other firing their muskets in a tragedy of attrition.  Then came the charge of cavalry.  Later combat occurred in trenches, a more sophisticated and therefore more deadly horror, where shells, bullets, bombs, chemicals, germs and gas were the weapons of choice, when men walked into No-Man’s-Land in the face of withering fire only to be cut down.  Later still combat ranged over territory and destroyed the Good Earth that God has given us.  In all of this the most brutal fighting is hand to hand and looking into the eyes of the enemy seeing the fear that is yours, there in his eyes too.  War took on a darker shade in the bombing of cities, and civilians became  ‘collateral damage’, whether by atomic weapons or barrel bombs or anything else.  And that, God forgive us, is still going on and like all elements of war it seems impossible to make it stop.  The men and women we honour today died in these kinds of wars.  But the nature of War is changing.  It is no longer defined by opposing armies but by terrorists and guerillas.  And war is conducted in a more frightening way, where lethal force is in the hands of someone with a militarised Xbox, thousands of miles away.  War is thus becoming sanitised and impersonal.  More than ever, especially after the events of this week, we continue to need trustworthy, skilled and brave individuals to ensure the peaceful life that God intends for us.

Surely though we have had enough of War !  Earlier I quoted Joel and his call to arms.  I now quote the prophet Isaiah.  He foresaw a time when people will listen to God and reason more than they did in the past.  Isaiah says  “[God]  shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;  [then]  they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;  nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.  (Isaiah 2:4).  Isaiah reverses Joel’s call to arms because he had experienced war and longed for the reign of the God who said  “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”  (Matthew 5:44).  So Isaiah says  ‘enough is enough’.  Surely we too must say  ‘enough is enough’  alongside him.  Isn’t it enough that the victims of past wars have suffered and sacrificed, one more sacrifice is surely one too many.

Today is a time for us to honour the victims of war, take some time today to think about, to ponder, to meditate, to pray that we will not learn war any more, that the brutal instruments of war will be put to productive use the way Isaiah says.  I ask you to pray for Peace not only because it is a good thing to do but because every one of those we honour today surely prayed for Peace as they faced the evils of War.  They were not wrong !  Follow their example.  Pray that no more will people be asked to sacrifice life and limb the way they did so that we and all who are yet to come have a better world in which to live peacefully.  Today we humbly give thanks to God for the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for us in War and therefore we pray for Peace.  Let us pray:  Almighty God, you have gathered us here today to remember all those who laid down their lives in War for our sake.  They are gathered into your nearer presence for which we give thanks.  May we with them be faithful to the ideals for which they fought and with them receive the crown of glory at the end.  We pray for Peace in this world and the triumph of your Kingdom in it.  And now the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you all and those whom you love, this day and evermore.  Amen.

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