Remembrance Sunday 2018

November 11, 2018

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Preached by The Ven Jonathan Chaffey, former Chaplain-in-Chief to the RAF, using Is 49.13-19; James 3.13-18 at the Remembrance Sunday service on Sunday 11th November 2018, the 3rd Sunday before Advent.

Harry Potter’s friend, Neville, was given a ‘Remembrall’ – a marble sized ball that glowed red when Neville had forgotten something.  The truth is: whether we use shopping lists or digital apps, we all need help when it comes to remembering.  This Cathedral, City and County have used a wide variety of creative means to commemorate the centenary of the 1WW: the visual imagery of woollen poppies on the railings of the Close and petals dropping from the roof of the Cathedral; a vigil of poetry and music, reflectively entitled ‘Dare to Hope’; and the profound installation of Box 459 shining light on a lost generation from the parishes of Winchester. For my part, today I wear my G’s identification disc from the Battle of the Somme.  And together we shall shortly and silently make our Act of Remembrance, just as the guns fell silent at the 11th hour on 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years ago.

But of course, recalling the past, by itself, is not enough.  For what matters most is not what we remember but how we do so.  Recalling the terrible nature of war and its consequences, without interpretation and then learning, is pointless.  If we are to honour those who have served and sacrificed whether in World Wars, more recent conflicts or in the fight to maintain civil society against terror and crime – including civilians caught up in such devastation – we need to do more.  It is incumbent on us to remember the past in a way that inspires us to work for reconciliation and harmony today.

So how can we remember with understanding?  You cannot explain away the loss of a generation in the Great War; nor can you offer platitudes to those carrying war inflicted grief, nor give cheap answers to those still bearing the physical wounds or the psychological scars.

The timeless wisdom of the Bible, as always, helps us in our difficulty. Our first reading is addressed to a nation in despair, uncertain of its identity and future.  In speaking words of comfort and compassion, God reveals that he understands the burdens that we bear in our complex lives, whether personal, civic or national. As a chaplain in the Armed Forces I have sometimes experienced a surprising degree of hope in the midst of conflict. Whether it is the astonishing acts of service that I have observed or the remarkable ability of servicemen and women in the heat of battle to fight morally and legally for what is right, I have detected the presence of God even where some have tried to make him absent.

We can ‘dare to hope’ – even more so when we consider God’s promise that our names ‘are engraved on the palm of his hands’.  For God does not just understand; he never forgets us.   The consequence of such love was for God to take human form in Jesus – Jesus who came to know conflict and suffering himself, who cried as he looked over Jerusalem: “If you had only known what would bring you peace”, he said, “yet it is hidden from your eyes”.

God then understands; and he remembers; but he also calls us to be honest and to recognise our need of his peace.  Hear the challenge in our second reading: “Who is wise among you? Let them show it!…for bitter envy and selfish ambition is not wise but of the devil.”  The Russian dissident Solzenhitsyn understood the human condition, observing that ‘the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being’. It is vitally important for future generations that we face up to any battles that may exist in our own lives and communities today.

So on this Centenary Day, we remember – with respect and gratitude for those who died that we might live; with pain as we consider the suffering of those still caught up in conflict; and with sober humility as we consider the potential for good and ill that exists in each one of us.  But I also encourage you: ‘Dare to Hope’, by turning your eyes and offering your wills to the Prince of Peace.  By giving his own life in sacrifice, not just for his friends but for his enemies as well, and then conquering the grave, he proved that God understands, that he remembers us, and that he ultimately restores – and, of great and humbling significance, that God actually believes in us and calls us to be agents of his reconciling love today.