This year, at the 11th hour, on the day of this, the 11th month of 2018, we will be commemorating the centenary of the formal ending of the First World War, said at the time to be ‘the war to end all wars’. We will be joining with others in our own nation, and also across the globe, and from both sides of that conflict, to remember the massive carnage and sacrifice, of civilians as well as soldiers. 100 years on, there will be additional poignancy to the familiar military parades and church services, both national and local, including our own in Eastham.
Though most of us have had no direct personal contact with those who died then, the impact of that conflict remains deeply etched on our national psyche. We are reminded of it in the very many war memorials we see in public places and in churches and churchyards, with lists of those, predominantly young men, who died in action. They were all volunteers (there was no conscription in that war), and often went off in groups, the so-called ‘pals regiments’, seeking adventure and new horizons as much as fighting for a just cause in the national interest. Instead they experienced misery and a frightening conflict that lasted far longer than they had imagined, or that the national propaganda at the time that suggested. Most thought they would be home victorious by Christmas 1914!
Commemoration is at the heart of our remembrance. We will affectionately wear our red poppies as we are rightly thankful for the sacrifice of those who have died in war. But we also need to use the occasion, especially in this its centenary year, not only to look back on these very different times in past conflicts, but also to look forward: specifically, to look forward to a time when conflicts between nations will cease, when, as Isaiah proclaimed, man shall ‘hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning knives’ (Isaiah ch.2, v.4).
As a nation, we need to commit to promoting peace not war. As Christians we know that Jesus specifically blessed those who work for peace: ‘God will call them his children’ (Good News Bible). Alas, World War I proved to be far from being the war to end all wars. However, since the end of World War II in 1945 there has been a retreat from global conflicts and a welcome growth in internationalism, with discussion and negotiation rather than armed action to resolve disputes. Unfortunately, this has been undermined by the proliferation of local conflicts and the growth of international terrorism, all fuelled by the easy availability of guns and other weapons.
War in the 21st Century is not so much about large armies facing each other in the trenches, as about of high-tech missiles and ‘smart’ weapons controlled by ‘sailors’ in submarines, pilots in fighter jets or ‘soldiers’ sitting at computer consoles in military headquarters firing weapons of mass destruction at military targets that inadvertently affect mostly innocent civilians. The awful consequences of any contemporary large-scale war do not bear thinking about, but we are all complicit in it in our support for our arms industry, including our very large exports of military hardware. Can we be comfortable that UK is currently the world’s second largest arms exporter?
As Christians, I believe that each of us can do two small but important things to commit to a peace that lasts. Firstly we can pray for peace. This year the opportunity to do that it is spearheaded by the 100 days of Peace and Hope daily prayer series, which began on 4th August, exactly 100 days before 11th November (see www.remembrance100.co.uk website).
Secondly, we can show our support by wearing a white poppy of peace. I shall be wearing one along with a red poppy at Remembrance services to commemorate past sacrifice at the same time as supporting peace. Together, they offer a powerful confirmation of the need for a Christian commitment to honouring the past as well as looking to build God’s kingdom for the future.
Yours in Christ,