Thank you for phoning the Ministry of Defence. I’m sorry but all our army, air force and navy units are out at the moment or otherwise engaged. Please leave a message with the name of your country and the specific crisis and the number at which we can contact you. As soon as we’ve sorted out Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, Cyrus, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan… we will return your call. Have a nice day and thank you for trying to contact the British Armed Forces.
Tongue firmly in my cheek I know – but history really does repeat itself. My grandparents, and some of you, faced the rise of Hitler. Peace talks had broken down. War against Germany was the only option in 1939.
I was 13 years old when the British Taskforce sailed to the Falklands in 1982. Galtieri’s troops were marching on British soil and threatening our citizens. Once again, war against Argentina was justified.
In contrast there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. We’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes. And how many more soldiers have to swelter and die in Helmand Province fighting a war they cannot win against Taliban warlords?
I know there are good reasons why we can’t leave Afghanistan. Nevertheless, as soldiers come home in coffins, we all share the grief of those who line the streets for we recognise the tragedy of war. Remembrance Sunday reminds us of the extreme danger our armed forces face and the commitment we make as a nation so that love and life, justice and peace may flourish.
It’s a ministerial privilege to lead this service, but I find it very difficult. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, but love, it seems, can’t conquer all. In an evil world, filled with wicked people, sometimes war is necessary to prevent even greater evil. Spitfire pilots had to fight the Luftwaffe, otherwise Germany would have invaded and thousands more would have died. In our day, the biggest threat to the Western World is from Al-Qaeda.
So although we don’t always understand the reasons for war, today of all days, we must fully appreciate the sacrifice our soldiers make to secure our protection, prosperity, peace and freedom. Yet at the same time the Church knows that war isn’t an aspect of the kingdom of God. We’re told in the Bible that God has made peace with a fallen world. Let me read to you how He has done this…
My responsibility, especially on Remembrance Sunday, is to exalt the triumph of the cross. Because that’s where we see a soldier – a man fighting for righteousness and justice – not wearing the 3 stripes of a Sergeant on his shoulder, but 39 stripes torn into his back by a Roman whip. Jesus Christ was sacrificed on our behalf and the “blood of the cross” - every drop of it – paid the penalty for our sin: “For he was pierced for our transgressions…for the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” His death, however, was not in vain, for the cross signifies life, not death. Jesus has set us free, because He was willing to pay the ultimate price.
As we remember those who have given their lives in war and their sacrifice achieved, we also remember the reason we come to Church: “This is my body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.” That’s what the Christian faith is about:- the cross of Jesus. One of His great sayings is: “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn.15:13). And that’s what He did for us.
Today there are two great symbols of sacrifice – the Poppy and the Cross. It’s in remembering the great battle Jesus fought; it’s in remembering what His sacrifice achieved for us – that in His death and resurrection, we have our hope for the future and our confidence for today in the promise of eternal life.
So let us seek to reaffirm our faith that God’s victory over death transforms us, and transforms the world in the face of all its wars, unrighteousness and suffering.
Grace and peace be with you all.