The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham gave the sermon on Remembrance Sunday 8th November at Durham Cathedral. in which he said: “War is never pleasant or glamorous. It is violent, cruel, unfair, ghastly.
“We absolutely rightly remember all those who have served in war through this past century, on land, in the air and at sea. We remember those who have given their lives in defence of our nation and our freedom. We remember that in the past year 5 service people lost their lives on active service. We remember those whose lives were permanently scarred because of injury, both physical and mental. We remember the civilian services, the police, fire and rescue, and ambulance and their heroic work in often very tough conditions.
“We remember because to forget would be to both dishonour those who served and gave their lives and it would be to fail to learn anything from such past conflicts. It would mean failing to understand the costs involved in having a free society today.”
Full transcript of his sermon.
On Friday evening I was with many others in Auckland Castle Park for a tremendous firework display. This one was a little different from many in that it was set to a musical score that was inspired by the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain; occasionally Winston Churchill’s famous words, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, resounded between the fireworks. We then shared in a dinner, hosted by the Lord Lieutenant, that continued the wartime theme with vegetable soup, bangers and mash and jam roly poly pudding whilst being entertained by the Doowop Dollies singing songs from the war. We even all sang along to some wartime songs waving our mini Union Jacks.
The reality of the Battle of Britain, as with all war, was of course more grim. My granddad was a relatively young policeman in the Met during that Battle. He sa.w many sad and unpleasant sights on the streets of London during those nights; like soldiers returning from World War 1 refusing to talk about what they had seen he did not talk about his experiences either. But experiences like his are described and captured well in Kate Atkinson’s novel, ‘Life after Life’. Ursula, the central character is part of a civilian rescue squad
The closer they got to the incident the worse it proved to be ( the opposite in Ursula’s experience, was rarely so).
A grisly tableau was the first thing to greet them – mangled bodies were strewn around, many of them no more than limbless torsos, like tailor’s dummies, their clothes blown off. Ursula was reminded of the mannequins she had seen with Ralph in Oxford Street, after the John Lewis bomb. A stretcher bearer, lacking as yet any live casualties, was picking up limbs – arms and legs that were sticking out of the rubble. He looked as if he was intending to piece the dead together again at a later date. Did someone do that, Ursula wondered? In the mortuaries – try to match people up, like macabre jigsaws? Some people were beyond re-creation, of course – two men from the rescue squad were raking and shovelling lumps of flesh into baskets, another was scrubbing something off a wall with a yard brush.’
War is never pleasant or glamorous. It is violent, cruel, unfair, ghastly. We absolutely rightly remember all those who have served in war through this past century, on land, in the air and at sea. We remember those who have given their lives in defence of our nation and our freedom. We remember that in the past year 5 service people lost their lives on active service. We remember those whose lives were permanently scarred because of injury, both physical and mental. We remember the civilian services, the police, fire and rescue, and ambulance and their heroic work in often very tough conditions.
We remember because to forget would be to both dishonour those who served and gave their lives and it would be to fail to learn anything from such past conflicts. It would mean failing to understand the costs involved in having a free society today.
Yet as we all are sadly aware war has not gone away. Today the successors of the brave pilots of the Battle of Britain fly warplanes over Iraq. HMS Bulwark was involved earlier in the year rescuing refugees from the Mediterranean, many of whom were fleeing the conflicts in Eritrea, Libya and South Sudan. We are a long, long way from a world at peace.
A VISION OF PEACE
Yet it is a vision of peace about which we heard in our first reading. It is a promise of peace that we heard from our Lord Jesus’ own lips in our second.
It is I believe essential that we have a vision of peace before us, for which we pray and work. A world at peace for which we seek. This is a vision well beyond that offered in the peacekeeping role that our soldiers are so often involved with such immense skill. This is a vision of peace where peacekeepers are really no longer needed. A peace where the whole of creation is at peace with itself and with one another. Where children really do not live in any fear but are able to flourish in every way. Where wisdom and understanding, counsel and might really do govern all the affairs of all people. Where justice, not simply fairness, truly reigns in all the earth. A world where God and his ways of love and grace are truly seen to reign ‘for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’
A world where there is not a conflict based refugee crisis because all people are able to live in their own nations, cities and homes at peace. A world where there is not an economic refugee crisis because the world’s goods are more justly shared and none live in hunger or are desperate for fresh clean water. A world where there are not asylum seekers fleeing because of religious persecution but where all live in peace.
To quote John Lennon ‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.’ This is not Lennon’s dream of imagining no heaven it is the prophetic dream of Isaiah and the other great prophets. It is the vision of a wholly redeemed creation of St Paul and the new heaven and new earth of St John. It is Jesus vision of the kingdom of God for which he gave up his life on the cross out of love for us all. It is a vision of the reality of God and heaven not their absence. Without such a profound and complete vision of peace we will not know for what we are seeking and working in our building of our national and international community.
But in working to get there Jesus promised his disciples an extraordinary peace in the midst of the conflict and struggles of life, and the overcoming of evil. He promised his presence with his disciples by the Holy Spirit that gave a peace beyond our understanding.
Beyond understanding because it comes in the midst of the struggles. Peace when we are facing sadness and loss. Peace when it appears that evil is triumphing. Peace when there seems every reason to fear or despair.
The great Catholic bishop martyr Oscar Romero said this of Peace:-
Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
Our greatest honouring of those who gave their lives for us in conflicts past, whether the 2 World Wars, or in the Falklands, Afghanistan, Iraq, or whilst serving in our own nation is to remember and to commit ourselves to striving and working for peace. The peace that God holds out before us in the prophets and supremely in Jesus Christ. And as we pray and work for such peace for all people’s may we know the Holy Spirit’s presence giving us the peace which passes all our understanding; for with such inner peace we will find strength to keep working for God’s peace even when situations seem intractable and unresolvable. For with God in Jesus Christ there is always hope, for one day ‘the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’