Remembrance Sunday 2019 Sermon
Contact Wait Out …… Three simple words that for most will mean nothing, for some of us here will increase your heart rate, cause adrenalin to move in your body and stress to be released.
For those of you who have not served in the armed forces you will not be aware that these are the first words you will hear over the radio that a unit has closed with the enemy and violence has started.
I have an unforgotten vocabulary that I no longer use but whose words I will always remember; you will close with the enemy and destroy them. Actions on Casualties, Emergency RV’s, extraction points, killing groups, neutralising the position, kinetic, fix bayonets, fire mission, supressing fire, assault group, winning the fire fight, sucking chest wound, shell dressing, slotted, wasted, body bag.
All of these phrases involve extreme violence and the destruction of human life.
To quote the great Wilfred Owen,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
There will be wars and rumours of Wars says Jesus ..
Remembrance Sunday Presents us with deeply conflicting ethical problems
I feel it deeply as a veteran having served as a soldier for 9 years, 2 and a half of those in Northern Ireland. Today is a painful day as for me, as it is for many here present. The medals you see worn here are not accolades more examples of those who have suffered and served.
Remembrance is less a show of muscle and might, not a military parade but more a place to remember, to grieve, to reflect and to respect those who carry still the mental wounds of conflict.
Today I will remember Cpl Jeff Jeffries killed by an IED on the Falls Road, in 1983. My very good friend L/Cpl Steven Taverner also killed in 1983 by an IED in Crossmaglen. I still remember vividly extracting his charred body back to the base and him being loaded into the Wessex Hospital to fly him to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Three days later he died of his wounds.
My subsequent experiences in Central African Republic and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa as a paratrooper in the Foreign Legion has resulted in me being today a pacifist . My experiences in Central Africa as well as Northern Ireland are still too vivid for me. I could no longer find a moral justification for war.
I am proud to have served with my fellow soldiers they were valiant men. The truth was we fought less for politicians or state, we fought for one another, bound together in an esprit de corps that would take us to distant lands that seemed a long way from home to fight what seemed like at times futile political causes. I believe every veteran here should be justifiably proud of themselves their fellow comrades and their unit that served us all. It is for each of us to judge for ourselves on whether a war is just or not.
And so to our readings… I turn to the words of Job … I know my redeemer lives.
The story of Job in scripture is one of profound suffering bought on by a cosmic war being fought between Satan and God. The result of this war was that Job lost everything ending up with all his family dead, all his possessions taken and then being accused by his friends of having been deserving of such calamity. The age old question, why does bad things happen to good people. Suffering very often isn’t a moral issue, namely a case of deserved or not, some just do suffer and it feels profoundly unjust. The existence of suffering is not the proof of a non-loving God especially in an evolutionary universe. Much suffering is the result of human immorality and evolutionary forces. The question is does God care and does God intervene?
And here I point to the cross of Christ. The place where humankind throws it violence with the greatest force. The place where we took God, made him our scapegoat for sin and evil and the suffering of all of us and we poured our violence into the Love of God.
And God takes our violence and evil and through the power of love beats it through God’s suffering and transforms it by love. Three days later the apparent defeat is transformed to victory as Darkness loses, light breaks in and violence is transformed into resurrection.
The Christian hope is the renunciation of violence and the embracing of Love. The way of another kingdom.
But in the gap between now and the kingdom to come, we remember, Monte Casino, Kohima, the battle for Caen, Imphal, all largely forgotten apart from DDay yet each of these with colossal death tolls.
We must remember, we must honour our dead and support our living, but we must all in our hearts learn from the brutality of war and instead take the way of peace.