Vicar's Sermon - Remembrance Sunday
On the 14th September earlier this year a concert took place on the south lawn of the Queen Elizabeth II park - the London Olympics site. Performing were the Kaiser Chiefs, Ellie Goulding, Ryan Adams, The Vamps, Rizzle Kicks, James Blunt, Diversity and the Military Wives Choirs.
The crowd was about 26,000. I caught some of the concert on the TV, maybe you saw it too. It was, of course, a concert held to mark the closing of the Invictus Games. A celebration of the part that sport has played in the healing of the bodies and minds of servicemen and women from this country and further afield. Prince Harry was a prime mover in making the Games happen: he ended his speech by wondering whether he should crowd surf...I’m not sure his Grandma would have been pleased. Instead, he made do by introducing the Foo Fighters as they came onstage. In the crowd on that night were the competitors and their families. Also at the games were teams of people who work with our injured service men and women in Military Hospitals and recuperation centres – their role was honoured too, quite rightly.
Invictus means ‘undefeated’. There were, in the course of the Games some incredible stories of strength, courage, perseverance and determination: men and women, redeeming something from the past. Bringing something good out of the most awful of circumstances: finding ways to meet new physical challenges and to overcome them, finding ways to fight back against despair, finding new purpose alongside others, celebrating life over loss and (for some, near-death). The poppy appeal each year goes to support men and women like this. The Royal British Legion and other military charities work with widows and widowers, children and parents and servicemen old and young to bring some good out of bereavement, loss or trauma. As we rightly remember the past, with memories and stories from the First World War prominent at this time, this day invites us to remember all those whose lives have been lost in conflict, not just those of 100 years ago but in almost every year of the last century and this. This day calls us again to support those who have come through warfare and who bear its scars. It is good that we are here. Your presence says that they are not forgotten.
The work of redemption- bringing something good out of something awful - is hard. It requires honesty – the ability to face up to what has happened and its reality in an individual’s life whether that is shown in some form of disability or trauma, or whether this is obvious or hidden (as might be the case with post-traumatic stress). Honesty and a harsh truthfulness are essential.
In addition, redemption requires courage and perseverance. For some this is the courage to face another day of pain. For civilians, friends and colleagues who mourn loved ones it is the courage to live another day with the knowledge that their loved one is not coming home: the courage to bring up the children of a family without their mother or their father. The courage to mark another Christmas or another birthday with an absence where a son or daughter used to be.
As we commemorate one hundred years since the beginning of the first world war I wonder how far along the road to redemption we are? What good have we rescued from those tragic years? There have been thousands of pages written about the war in books published to mark this centenary. Radio and TV programmes (factual and dramatic) have tried to help us to be honest about the events that saw a generation killed across Europe, in the Middle East and India in the first truly global conflict. What have we learned though? How would we have acted differently? Honesty perhaps requires us to recognise that (as someone said on the radio the other day) ‘the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart.’ It is hard to resist the voices of intolerance that we hear nowadays - did we learn nothing from the 1930s and the danger of seeking scapegoats for our problems? It is easy to divide one person against another. It is hard to build up community, to gather people together to find solutions to difficult problems. Why is this?’ Perhaps because ‘the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart.’
Honesty about our human condition demands of us a courage and perseverance that is so often lacking if we are to bring some good out of the grim reality that is war: justice where there was none, peace where there was violence, healing where there had been nothing but brokenness. These things involve work and effort and commitment – an attitude of heart and mind that we honour in theory but cannot find within ourselves. We need a change of heart.
Which is why the front of our order of service carries a cross and the words ‘In this sign, conquer’. Remembrance Day is all inclusive, let’s be sure of that - today we remember those of all faiths and none who died in war: Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews. But our Christian tradition points us to Jesus of Nazareth, whose burning honesty about our human need for redemption (for a change of heart) led him to face the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf with determination and immense courage, trusting that something new could come into being because of God’s faithfulness to Him. His was a sacrifice that makes possible a change of heart, a different take on life, and a reassessment of our values. His was a sacrifice which invites us to follow in His way to make a difference for good and for God in the world.
Invictus means ‘unconquered’. The cross was real. His death was real. The violence, the hatred, the weakness, the deceit, the mess that is the human condition that saw Jesus put to death is all real. But God is faithful and triumphs even over death itself bringing us redemption – good out of evil, hope from despair, light from darkness. God’s faithfulness is ‘Invictus’, unconquered and unconquerable
So today we remember. Today we honour. Today we mourn but today we also commit ourselves afresh to following in the way of Christ in whose sign we conquer through the goodness and the faithfulness of God.