Introduction and Call to Worship
Today, Remembrance Sunday we recall those who have lived and died in the service of others – especially those from this community of Thorpe. We also confess our part in conflicts both in our lives and in the wider world and we pray for those who suffer because of war. We do all this in the context of worshipping God, who calls us to peace, justice and grace – the 5 marks of our mission.
First Reading Wisdom 6:12-16
Some beautiful, poetic words about the pursuit of wisdom. They assure us that if we truly desire to find wisdom, then we will.
Or Amos 5:18-24
Amos declares that the day of the Lord will be a day of doom, invoking justice and righteousness.
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 4:13-end
Some words of encouragement for all those who feel anxious about what happens after death. Paul explains that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the firm basis of our hope that we too shall live with God for ever.
Gospel Matthew 25:1-13
A story about the five foolish and five wise bridesmaids. It is a story about choices and their consequences, and challenges us to examine how we live.
HOMILY “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
My grandmother, Jeanette has written down various memories of her experiences during the Second World War and I am so pleased to say that Nan continues to inspire her family with stories and recollections from that time. Some are quite humorous, some speak of a world long since gone, of communities that lived in an intimate space with shared facilities and interdependence. She also recalls great suffering – of those who told their own stories of the Great War and those who returned from the war during her youth. She also speaks of being evacuated from Hastings in Sussex to a farm in Wales and of the generosity, but also strictness, of those who cared for her and her brother. She soon returned to Hastings where she recalls the bombings and civilian casualties, and one in particular has left its emotional scars.
With precise accuracy Nan remembers a raid at 12.59pm on Sunday 23 May 1943. Ten German bombers swept in at rooftop height, machine-gunning the town at the same time as releasing 25 bombs, which scored direct hits on five public houses and two hotels filled with diners. She had just delivered tobacco to her uncle who had joined fishermen for their lunch at the Swan Hotel in the High Street. As the siren went off she ran up the hill and dived into the shelter behind All Saints Church, and only to be followed by an enormous explosion. The Swan Hotel was levelled to the ground. Twenty-five people were killed and many more injured.
War is never pleasant or glamorous. It is violent, cruel, unfair and ghastly. And sadly, it is not simply a matter of history. The word Remembrance brings something from the past into the present – in Church we do this Sunday by Sunday as we break the bread and share the cup, just as Jesus commands all Christians to do ‘in remembrance of me’. As we share Communion, Jesus himself is with us – we bring the past into the present by remembering. If it is a while since you have been to Communion I invite you to return to St Mary’s Church soon to take part in remembering and sharing.
And we remember today because to forget would be to both dishonour those who served our country in so many conflicts and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives. We also remember the countless many civilians who were brave at home, and suffered in many ways. “We Remember” because of the gift given by others in the past that has enabled us to enjoy a long period of relative peace, freedom and justice which has flourished through much of Europe.
But as we remember those who have given their lives in defence of our nation and our freedom, so we must also reflect upon the realities of war today, still raging in parts of the world which seem so far off but are really very near to us - the reality of war has not gone away. Today the successors of the brave pilots of the Battle of Britain fly warplanes over Iraq. As we gather and worship and remember at St Mary’s, Royal Navy ships are at work in the Mediterranean scooping refugees out of the sea, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in central Africa and the Middle East. We may feel like we are a long way from their suffering, but nonetheless, war continues. And so it is right that today, as we remember those from the past, we also remember those who today still fight for freedom and justice and peace. We have just sung that haunting hymn, “Peace perfect peace”, written in 1976 which speaks of peace as a gift – along with love, faith, hope and joy.
Indeed, these words are all gifts of God in creation. It is all too easy to take these gifts for granted. Faith stands out for me as a most wonderful gift, which is open to each and every person. Faith can help us cope with the challenges of life and struggles of war and bereavement, but faith is not an easy gift – none of them are – they all require commitment. We have to work at faith just as we have to work at love and of course, at peace. Oscar Romero knew all about the desire for people to work for love and peace and human flourishing. He served as the fourth Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, torture and war. Because of his challenge he was martyred for the Christian faith in 1980. He said this about peace:
Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right, and it is duty.
In twenty minutes or so we will gather at Thorpe War Memorial for our annual Act of Remembrance and Witness. As part of that community commemoration we will hear read the Kohima Epitaph. “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.” The reading of names, which we have already done, the lighting of small red candles and the re-telling of their stories, is so important as we strive to keep alive their memory and ‘remember.
Let us commit ourselves to ‘remember’ as we work for love, faith, hope and joy, and of course peace. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.