Remembrance Sunday this year, along with most of the rest of the way of life at the moment, is very different. This can clearly be seen in this church where there are only six of us but throughout the country people will be making their own memorial and thinking of those who gave their lives in the two world wars and other conflicts. This year we are also aware of the NHS many of whose workers have a given of themselves in the battle against the coronavirus.

This year, in spite of everything, we have seen the 75thcommemoration of VE and VJ day. I found myself very moved by the veterans talking about their experiences, projected on to the walls of Horse Guards Parade. And there was Robin Rowland who lives in South Luffenham speaking about his time in Kohima. And there was pride on all their faces but also much pain.

Remembrance is not a glorification of war but thanks for the bravery of sacrifice. The poppy is used as a symbol of that gratitude as a flower of freedom and hope. They grow best on broken ground. After the poem that has become so familiar to us, ‘In Flanders’ Fields’, was published anonymously in ‘Punch’, women in France began making poppies and cornflowers (which also grew in the fields) to decorate the war graves. A lady called Madame Guerin saw something greater and campaigned to have the poppy accepted as a symbol of remembrance but she had no success in France. She continued her crusade and took it to London. The poppy now unites men and women in Britain like nothing else.

In our reading Jesus knows that he is on course to his death. He knew that he was not the warrior leader which so many of his contemporaries were expecting. That was not God’s way. Jesus told the disciples that the best and only way was the way of love. The disciples were his friends, in spite of everything that they had said and thought and everything that they would do before his resurrection; Peter would deny knowing him and the others would run away. Jesus still loved them and they loved him but that love would be tested over and over again. They would be called upon to lay down their lives but in the full knowledge that Jesus had laid down his life not only for them but also for each one of us. We need to cultivate the friendship of Jesus and it requires hard work. We need to listen to him and follow what he asks us to do. We may not be asked to lay down our lives for others but we need to support those who are.

One of the veterans of World War 1, Harry Patch, said:

I don’t think it is possible to truly explain the bond that is forged between a soldier in the trenches and his fellow soldiers. There you all are, no matter what your life in civvy street, covered in lice, desperately hungry, eking out the small treats – the ounce of tobacco, the biscuit. You relied on him and he on you, never really thinking that it was just the same for the enemy. But it was. It was every bit as bad.’

The opposite of war is peace and the opposite of remembering is forgetting. Only through remembering will peace be achieved. The service at the Cenotaph in London is very different this year with crowds banned and only about 26 people allowed but the symbolism will not be lost. I had forgotten that the meaning of ‘cenotaph’ is an empty tomb. There was another empty tomb near Jerusalem two thousand years ago. After a humiliating, brutal death which he endured as an innocent man, Christ had risen, as we sing every Easter. It is that empty tomb which gives us hope in the knowledge that eternal life can be ours. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the cenotaphs could be a sign of world wide peace and signify the resurrection for everyone?

I’d like to read a poem written by Nick Fawcett. He had visited the war graves in Flanders and found one which had his name on it. He wrote afterwards:

How did you feel that morning

When the call up papers came through?

Did your blood run cold or excitement take hold

At the thought that your country needs you?


How did you feel that morning

When the time came to set off from home?

Did you conquer your fears or break down in tears

With the loved ones you’d soon leave alone?


How did you feel that morning

When you first set foot in the trench?

Did you brush it aside or wish you could hide

From the horror, the carnage, the stench?


How did you feel that morning

When they sent you over the top?

Did you shout with relief or in sheer disbelief

Vainly pray the nightmare would stop?


How did you feel that morning

When the bullets started to fly?

Did you think even then that you might cheat death again

Or did you know you were going to die?


How did you feel that morning

As the life blood slipped slowly away?

Did you try to make sense of these crazy events

Or with one final breath try to pray?


How do I feel this morning

In the face of such slaughter and sorrow?

Do I just stand aghast as I think of the past

Or give all for a better tomorrow?

Only by all of us playing our part will everlasting peace be found.


Lord of peace, send us out to be beacons of peace in a dark world of conflict.

Make us instruments of peace for whoever we meet and wherever we go, in the name of the Prince of Peace.



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