The Revd Margaret Legg
Beware! Today we mark the start of WW1 a 100 years ago. Beware!
This can be dangerous. In Alan Bennett’s play (2004) The History Boys, Irwin, taking a lesson on WW1 poets, tells his secondary school pupils that, ‘It’s not so much lest we forget, as lest we remember. Because you should realise that so far as the Cenotaph and the Last Post and all that stuff is concerned, there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.’ Surely not.
So why are we marking the centenary of the start of WW1 this morning?
Three reasons, as we prayed before lighting our candle:
Firstly, to remember, not to forget! To remember war’s devastation: like the ruined landscapes and destroyed towns, like the economic, political and cultural legacy that was to shape the world for generations to come.
To remember the 10 million lives lost; the 20 million injured.
To remember those from this parish who died in the conflict, whose names we will remember during our intercessions this morning: some, like Private William Frederick Little, who died 26.8.18, were baptised in this church; some, like Captain Lord Hugh William Grosvenor, grandfather of the current Duke of Westminster, who were stationed in Hyde Park with the Household Cavalry. He died less than 3 months after war was declared, on 30 August 2014.
To remember the sacrifices and price paid by so many for our freedom.
Surely these horrors will always be remembered or is there a danger, as Irwin with his revisionist view of history suggests, once the ceremonies are over we can then breathe a collective sigh of relief and, thankfully, solemnly, go home and forget all about it for another year?
What about the second reason? In hope, hope for a peaceful future.For over 60 years most of Europe has been at peace. The European Union has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for helping to "transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace". A prize for all EU Citizens, commented the EU President.
Yet growing numbers throughout the Union query it’spurpose and whether they should remain as members. Meanwhile world peace is increasingly fragile: the Civil War continues in Syria; fundamentalist Sunnis have overrun parts of Iraq and are making incursion into Syria; Russia menaces the independence of Ukraine- to name but a few. Hope can easily become wishful thinking, languishing at the bottom of the pile, forgotten.
Perhaps the teacher, Irwin, is right: ‘there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.’ But that is to leave out the 3rd reason, which I preface with another quotation, in the context of a war fought 150 years ago, the American Civil War, when a pious cleric expressed to Abraham Lincoln the hope that ‘God was on our side.’ The President wisely rebuked him, pointing out that, the more pressing issue was whether they were on God’s side! And here lies the rub, regarding the dangers of this, because...
Our 3rd reason is to build, to build the kingdom of God in our lifetimes. To show that we are on God’s side, to show that we are ready and willing to act, to do, to work for that kingdom in which there is no strife, no suffering, only peace. It is because we remember the horror, it is because we hope for a peaceful future, and because we do so in the context of faith, that we have the impulse and the energy to do this.
Where do we start?
Where the disciples in our Gospel started –by spending time with Jesus, just as we are doing throughout this service, in our prayers, in our worship, in our liturgy. They see how Jesus builds the kingdom in his care for people, and they find they have the same impulse to care. They see Jesus caring in this passage by healing; the disciples care when they notice the people are hungry. We care, that refugees are starving, for instance.
But what to do about it? The disciples didn’t know either. Or rather they, it seems to me, assumed Jesus would sort it out for them. No such luck: ‘you give them something to eat’ was his response!
All too difficult? That’s what the disciples thought: ‘We have nothing here but 5 loaves and 2 fish.’ But when they give him the little food they have, things begin to happen. Jesus gives them a practical demonstration. This is how you build the kingdom, he teaches:
You care enough to want help, so you give me the little you’ve got.
You’re not clear what it can do, but it’s all you can offer.
I take it, bless it, break it and give it back to you.
Your job now is to give it to everyone else.
This is how you build the kingdom. You give me what you have, however big: the grandson of Captain Lord William Hughes Grosvenor, is the current Duke of Westminster. He is donating Stanford Hall and a substantial sum of money to establish a new treatment centre for wounded soldiers and civilians,
however little: our ideas, sense of humour, time, money, energy, talents, love, skills: technical, artistic, verbal, whatever we have.
It may mean we go hungry ourselves, but the giving and the breaking are part of letting God in. And then they can become something greater and different, more powerful and more mysterious, both ours and not ours. They might even develop a life of their own, like the Passage Day Centre, down in Victoria, which began when Cardinal Hume persuaded the cathedral choir school to let the homeless sleep in their school hall each night, like our Lent Charity, Mary’s Meals, which began back in 1992 when 2 brothers from Scotland, were so moved by the horror of the images on the TV news of the conflict in Bosnia that they decided to organise an appeal for food and blankets, like Christ’s death and resurrection, which we remember each time we celebrate the Eucharist, when we take, bless, break and are given the bread and the wine.
Jesus gave his life for the salvation of the world; in the war we mark today, millions gave their lives for our tomorrows; what are we prepared to give and to do, to help build God’s kingdom of peace?