Remembrance Sunday, 8 Nov 2020
102 years ago at 11am on the 11th Day of the 11th month of 1918 the Armistice was signed bringing an end to the First World War and the subsequent re-shaping of Europe. On that very day Private Arthur Welch of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote these words in his diary: I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11am this day will be one of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilized nations. From our own knowledge and perspective his wholesome ideal and sentiment has become a tragic irony.
The Mass is always an Act of Thanksgiving for that is what Jesus did at the Last Supper when he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, shared it with his apostles and likewise shared the chalice. That Act of Thanksgiving, which we make afresh at every Mass has a special significance on this Remembrance Sunday because we give thanks for the courage, or even fearful obedience, for those whose lives were given, or rather “taken” in the defence of our nation and peoples, and many, many, more who still suffer as a result of injuries, physical, mental and emotional. We offer this Mass particularly for those from our parishes whose names are recorded our War Memorials during the Act of Remembrance and the countless others who have died since 1918 in the service of our Country whose names we do NOT know as well as all who remain injured in whatever way as a result of warfare and also acts of terrorism, those too who suffer the pain of bereavement.
100 years have passed since Sir Edward Lutyens` Cenotaph was unveiled in Whitehall and since the Unknown Warrior was buried in Westminster Abbey. This year, because of the Pandemic the traditional National Act of Remembrance is rather curtailed but folks have been asked to keep the 2 minutes silence at 11am by coming to their doorsteps in an act of solidarity and Remembrance.
Approaching 77 years of age I cannot remember a time when our armed forces have not been involved somehow and somewhere in conflict – the list of nations affected so long that when recited they sound like a litany. What is more most of us will know or know of someone fairly close who has been killed or injured and still the fighting goes on. How do we reconcile all this when we call our Saviour The Prince of Peace ?
We humans are great at using plants and flowers as symbols; LILIES FOR PURITY AND FOR FRANCE; THE RED ROSE FOR PASSIONATE LOVE AND FOR ENGLAND, THE YELLOW ROSE FOR REMEMBRANCE, THE SHAMROCK FOR THE HOLY TRINITY AND FOR IRELAND, THE THISTLE FOR SCOTLAND, THE DAFFODIL FOR WALES AND THE WONDERFUL MARIE CURIE CHARITY and there is this very simple and potent SYMBOL OF THE CRIMSON POPPY OF FLANDERS FIELDS which has become the nationally, and perhaps internationally, known symbol of the ROYAL BRITISH LEGION representing both the sacrifice of those who have died or served our country in time of war. How did this come to be ? It came about by a death in Belgian Flanders in 1915. John MrCrea, a Surgeon-Major in the Canadian Artillery who had been Professor of Pathology at Vermont University was moved to volunteer as a surgeon at the age of 42. He found himself conducting the burial service for one Alexis Helmer a former student of his, who had been killed in Flanders. Reflecting the following day on what had happened he composed that most famous of War Poems: “Flanders Fields”
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row That mark our place; and in the sky The larks still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard among the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields
Not happy with the poem he threw it aside but a fellow-officer found it and was so touched that he sent it to his home in England where, later in the year, it was published by the magazine Punch. Almost immediately the common poppy became the symbol for soldiers who had died in battle. By 1921 the then British Legion established the Poppy Day Appeal which is now the Royal B L`s most important activity. As a charity it does remarkable work to help service and ex-service personnel and their families in the most practical ways but it also serves to remind us of our past and present, our debt to those who serve and have served our nations and the ongoing necessity for our prayers for and working for peace and justice and the safe future of our families, children and grandchildren and fellow men and women.
Today`s scripture readings do not gloss over horror yet St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, (ch.4, vv. 13-14) gives all of us great hope when he he writes:”We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him.” Very much a “type” of what those whose lives have been given, or indeed taken under obedience, for our freedom. However, St, Matthew in today`s Gospel passage reminds us very strongly of the need for us to be prepared for the coming of Christ`s Kingdom in all its fullness – and the consequence of being unprepared!
Take heart, we continue in very difficult times under the present pandemic but our Saviour Jesus is constantly with us through His Holy Spirit who hovers over us and lives within us imparting that love which comes from God alone. Amen.