2nd Sunday of the Kingdom
Readings: Jonah 3. 1-5, 10; Psalm 62. 5-12; Hebrews 9. 24-28; Mark 1. 14-20 (view all)
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the Armistice was signed, bringing to an end the First World War. The four years and three months of the Great War were characterised by brutal trench warfare and near constant bombardment. During this time somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million British soldiers gave their lives, with a further 1.6 million wounded.
Today, 100 years later to the day, we remember the brave sacrifice of our soldiers, so many of whom were volunteers or conscripts, fulfilling their duty with so little preparation for what they were to face.
But we must also bring to mind the tragic impact of war. Parents left mourning their children, many without the possibility of ever truly finding out what happened to them. Surviving soldiers left physically wounded, with life-changing injuries, but also left deeply emotionally and psychologically scarred. Nations stunned, broken, mourning — the world irreparably changed.
There is perhaps no other point in human history when the brutality and tragedy of war has been made more obvious.
In every corner of our nation, communities were impacted, including the then-small-village of Llanedeyrn. In his history of the parish, given to me by someone a few months ago, Dennis Morgan writes this — referencing the two memorials here at which wreaths will be laid this morning:
‘Like many country districts, one feels it was never the same after the First World War. During that war, as a tablet in Llanedeyrn Church tells us, Rowland Thomas of Tyn-y-Berllan farm was killed at Emmaus in the Battle of Jerusalem in 1917. Again in April 1917, the school closed early one day for the military funeral of William Thomas, old boy of this school. How poignant it is to see both these young men appear in entries of the School log book, at the turn of the century, in happier days when they were pupils there.
’The War Memorial, inside the Church and outside, testifies that the village shared to the full in that great bloodletting of 1914-1918. In many cases father and sons went of to war together and two families lost more than one loved member of the family: Arthur and William Bennett; Arthur and Ivor George. Others who were never to return to their village were Ivor Mortimer, Idris Rees, Ivor Willey and David Lewis.’
Today we gather around those very memorials to remember them, along with all those who lost their lives in both World Wars, and all those men and women of our armed services who have continued to serve since, both in conflicts and around the world in peacekeeping roles.
But we have also come to gather around the Altar, the table of Jesus Christ. And so as we remember the harsh reality of war, our faith in God becomes the lens through which to make sense of all that has taken place, and is still taking place in our world. What comfort and challenge might we take as we reflect on the character of our God, on this most significant of days?
Firstly, our God is a God of justice and mercy. He does not and will not stand by while evil prospers, and his people suffer. We see this justice in God’s judgement of Nineveh in our Old Testament reading, but we also see God’s mercy in the face of true repentance and his desire for reconciliation with his people.
Secondly, our God is a God of refuge and strength. Just as our Psalm describes, for so many serving our nation over the course of history, in the midst of the brutality of conflict, God has been their rock. When we mourn, when we are downtrodden, when we feel lost, we can turn to him, our hiding place in the midst of the storms of life.
Thirdly, and finally, our God is a God of sacrifice and service. The writer to the Hebrews urges us to look to Christ and see the ultimate sacrifice, made once for all, and the promise of God’s saving grace for all those who turn to him. But it is the same Christ who also turns to us, and calls us, as he called his first disciples in our Gospel reading, to give ourselves in the service of justice and peace. To commit ourselves to work for reconciliation and harmony between people, within our communities, and between nations.
And, when we consider the tragic loss of so many lives 100 years ago, to say ‘never again’.
That’s the title of a poem I found some years ago, but which has always come back to me on Remembrance Day. It was written ten years ago at the 90 year anniversary of the end of the Great War, by a 10 year old boy called Scott Beer. Here it is:
‘Never Again’ – Scott Beer Aged 10 (Nov 2008)
It was ninety [now one hundred] years ago,
The end of a terrible war,
Millions say, Never Again!
Never again the pain and sorrow,
Never again the bombs of tomorrow,
Never again the smell of gas,
Never again the death of mass,
Never again the bombs and red sky,
Never again all who die,
Never again the rations of starvation,
Never again the sadness of evacuation,
Never again the air raids and dying,
Never again the shooting and crying,
Never again the horror of war,
That’s why we say
So today, as we gather to remember, may we place our trust in our God of justice and mercy, refuge and strength, sacrifice and service, and may our prayer be ‘never again’. May we have such a devotion to justice and freedom that the heroism of all who fought, and still fight, may continue to be remembered in a nation of service and in a world of peace.
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be the kingdom, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.