Remembrance Sunday 2020 Boarbank Hall
Rev. Richard J. Taylor
One of the greatest sorrows in the history of Christianity is that Christians have so often fought and killed fellow Christians. The history of imperialism and colonialism shows how they killed and enslaved so many others too. The first Christians would not even serve in the army. And in our own time many including Christians rejected conscription since it would involve killing. Many question whether there can be a just war when nuclear arms are involved.
But this special Sunday, with so many other people, we remember with gratitude those who gave their lives that we might live in freedom. Freedom is foundational for human flourishing, freedom from fear at so many levels. We know what it cost those people who suffered to protect it for us. The memorials for the dead in war everywhere keep it very personal for us. We are especially thankful to the Great War poets for sensitizing people to the realistic horrors of combat. Rupert Brooke joined the navy in 1914 and looked forward to war seemingly in a romantic way. The Soldier (1914) was used by Winston Churchill as propaganda for recruitment as soon as it was published. The Quaker Laurence Binyon from Merlewood just up the Windermere Road road near Boarbank Hall left us the oft cited verses laced with sorrow and no romance:
“They shall grow not old as we who are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
And we read of hope born of grief expressed in the lines of Maurice Baring on the death of his friend Julian Grenfell:
Because of you we will be glad and gay,
Remembering you we will be brave and strong.
Rudyard Kipling wrote of the death of his son Jack, an 18 year old Lieutenant in the Irish Guards, on Sept 27th, 1915, in the Battle of Loos. Kipling had pulled strings to have his son enlisted even though he was then too young. This gives special poignancy to the lines:
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
Kipling was also one of those who helped write the information for families receiving the dreaded messages: “missing presumed killed in action”. It had to be written in such a way that there would be no outcry against the savagery of the war, or anything that would engender resistance to its continuance.
The Church and War
In Rome Pope Benedict XV did everything he could to stop it. He begged all sides to put "an end to the suicide of Europe" (Christmas 1914) and had his seven point peace plan in 1917 rejected. The Vatican was even excluded from The Paris Peace Conference (1919). By then millions were in tears. ‘May they rest in peace’ is a lovely prayer. Nor can we be indifferent to those ‘on the other side’ whose lives were taken from them too. A chaplain in the First World War wrote home; “Oh, if you could see our wards, tents, huts, crammed with terrible wounds…in strict confidence, please, I got hold of some morphia… creep into the long tents where two or three hundred Germans lie, you can imagine what attention they get with our own neglected, the cries and the groans are too much to withstand and I cannot feel less pity for them than for our own." -The Rev. John M.S. Walker, in The Faber Book of Reportage, edited by John Carey, 1987, p.464. He was a true Christian.
We recite together in the Lord’s Prayer. ‘As we forgive those who trespass against us’. The sentiment goes with the suffering. We shall remember them especially now as the Corona Virus has shut our churches and cancelled our traditional remembrance ceremonies. We may wonder if people today wearing poppies know why specifically it is poppies that are being worn.
The First War was only in its relatively early stages (1915) when the Canadian surgeon John McCrae wrote that poem;
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
In our time pressure is on for the crosses to be replaced with something less identifiably Christian. But ‘RIP’ will continue to identify the Christian graves in the public cemeteries and they will remain in Flanders Fields to remind us of what Christians inflicted on fellow Christians, and on so many others, and of the price paid for the defense of human dignity, and the gratitude we owe to those who suffered to protect it. Amen.
Rev. Richard J.Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International