In my old village there was some discussion at the parish council about the wording of the new memorial plaque that they planned to lay on the green in front of the church. They could not agree among themselves so they decided to write to the vicar and ask his opinion.
We gather today in common with millions of people to remember and honour those who have fought for their country and after this service we will lay our poppies at the memorial as a symbol of our remembrance. The remembrance collect we have just read includes the words: “Hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all who we remember this day.”
But I wonder if this is enough? Yes we should surely remember and give thanks for the men and women who gave of themselves and who are still doing so in hostile environments, deployed across the world in the many conflicts that continue to rage but I think that I want us to do more
To quote from Archbishop Temple broadcasting in 1939 on the home service at the outbreak of war: He said:
“No positive good can be done by force; that is true. But evil can be checked and held back by force and it is precisely for this that we may be called upon to use it.”
We might very well think about the first part of the sentence – “no positive good can be done by force“ in reference to recent conflicts and we have as a nation reevaluated the modern wars in the Middle East where the use of force has been seen by some to have had unwelcome consequences. That no positive good can arise is of course why we avoid using force wherever possible. But the second part of Temple’s sentence can also be seen to be true “Evil can be checked and held back by force.” We saw the evil of the Second World War when liberating soldiers discovered Auschwitz, Buchenwald,and the camps in Asia, we saw the evil in Serbia and in Rwanda, we have seen the evil of violent men in European cities London, Paris, Manchester and the evil we shall discover in Northern Syria.
Those who gave their lives gave them to preserve a way of life, to preserve our rights, freedoms and liberties; theirs was a struggle for good against evil a good that resided in shared values especially in the way they believed and understood that we should behave towards one another.
And that is why the village concluded that the words on the stone were not simply “for those who laid down their lives for country”– but “for those who laid down their lives for God and country” because there was more to it – there were those values - and the best values the best ways of living together come from our understanding of God and his message of love. On the memorial in Burnham Market there are some of the words form John’s Gospel
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you, no-one, ”says Jesus “has greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for ones friends.”
So - when we lay our poppy or wreath on the stone I would like us to also think about this: Is our society the one they were fighting for, do we as a community and as individuals do more than remember, do we still struggle to uphold and live by these values that they fought for and for which many are fighting for still?
Yes, we lay our poppy to remember and honour but also let us think deeply as we do about our lives and how we live together, how we care for one another, how we converse with one another let us again resolve to live up to the values of those who sacrificed themselves for us and for the way of life they dreamed for us.