This Sunday is the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Armistice – an agreement between the Allies (represented by Britain and France) and Germany - to bring the First World War to an end. The agreement was a prelude to peace negotiations and was signed in Ferdinand Foch's railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne, about 37 miles north of Paris. The Armistice took effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and that was when four years of carnage finally came to an end.
This week at my Church we are preparing a service – with some beautiful music, poetry and prayers - to remember the Armistice and to remember those who died in the First World War and those who have died in other wars and conflicts both past and present.
The service is therefore a sober and solemn occasion. But it is not devoid of hope and thanksgiving. I hope that the service will spark within us a range of emotions that I feel are appropriate and eluded to in the Church of England’s set prayer for Remembrance Sunday. This prayer is as follows:
O Lord, our maker and our strength,
from whose love in Christ we can never be parted either by death or defeat:
May our remembrance this day deepen our sorrow for the loss and wastes of war,
make us more grateful to those who courageously gave their lives
to defend this land and commonwealth;
and may all who bear the scars and memories of conflicts, past and present,
know your healing love for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.
This prayer reminds us that our strength – our courage and hope for the future – is in the Lord and in the path to peace he has shown us in Jesus Christ. Which is a path of peace through non-violent justice and fairness for all people in our world. Rather than a short-lived peace brought about by violent victory and oppression of opponents.
It may seem depressing that the First World War did not prove to be the war to end all wars as many had hoped. And it is. But this truth serves as a reminder that no war ends all wars – because the only thing to end war is to say No to war and violence – as Jesus showed us in his journey to the Cross.
The prayer also reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even death – as St Paul claims in his letter to the Romans. The only power to defeat war in the end is love – the love we see on the Cross, the love of God. And that love is so powerful that nothing can frustrate it and nothing can separate us from it.
The prayer asks God to ‘deepen our sorrow for the loss and wastes of war.’
Only by engaging with the true stories and true horror of war can we connect with what happened and see the fruitlessness of violent conflict. If you are Chiswick-based and want to hear the true stories of local men who lost their lives in the First World War, please come to the play My Darling Boy that is being produced by St Michael’s Players at St Michael’s Church this Thursday and Friday evening (8 & 9 Nov) – tickets can be bought here.
The prayer also asks God ‘to make us more grateful to those who courageously gave their lives to defend’ us. And again, it’s important to recognise – even for pacifists to recognise - the sacrifices made by so many. And how young were so many of the men who died.
Finally, the prayer asks that ‘all who bear the scars and memories of conflicts’ may know God’s healing love. Which brings us back to the power of God’s love – not only to bring us hope, to show us another way, but also to bring us healing.
So this Sunday – wear a poppy and remember. Remember the suffering of war and repent of the cruelty of humanity that we all have a share in.
But, at the same time, rejoice. Yes, I do mean rejoice. Rejoice that we trust in a God who loves us and heals us and forgives us. And from whom nothing can separate us. Not even death and the powers of hell that were seen in the First World War.
Then let’s pray a wonderful and hopeful prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
O God, all holy one, you are our Mother and our Father
and we are your children.
Open our eyes and our hearts that we may discern your work
and see your features in every one of your children.
May we know that you want us to care for one another
as those who know that they are sisters and brothers, members of the same family.
Help us to live in harmony,
wiping away the tears from the eyes of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. And may we know war no more, as we strive to be what you want us to be: