Remembrance Day Reflections

I travelled back to my cousins farm in Norfolk last night after preaching at a Portuguese speaking service, listening in the car to Radio 2 broadcasting from the Royal Albert Hall, a poignant and moving occasion. 

This morning 14 years ago I gathered with other denominational leaders and representatives and met with Members of the Cabinet and Opposition parties and Ambassadors prior to standing by the Cenotaph, observing the two minutes silence, and the laying of wreaths watched by the large assembled crowd representing Allied Nations, the Armed Forces, Military personnel, past and present and their families. A moving, solemn occasion of commemoration and remembrance mingled with thanksgiving for those who gave their lives sacrificially that we might have our lives. 

As we gathered this morning, at the war memorial in the town, following the service where I preached at Dereham Baptist Church, the remembrance ceremony that was being held throughout the country ending with the words penned by John Maxwell Edmund in 1916, “When you go Home, tell them of us and say, For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today

Tomorrow back home in Northallerton I will attend the laying of a memorial stone dedication on our housing estate to remember the life of Ben Hyde, a young man, an only child, from the town, who was one of six Royal Military Policemen killed on 24th June 2003 in Southern Iraq. A Lance Corporal, a peacemaker who lost his life so others could live in peace.

I remember standing with my younger son Joshua back in 20006 as we visited the battlefields of the First and Second World War and reading the thousands of names of young men who had died, like lambs to the slaughter, in a war that was meant to end all wars but didn’t.

I remember watching those remarkable scenes from Berlin back in 1989 as the wall dividing East and West Germany came down and the nation was re-unified, the fruit of which was to see, in due course, a remarkable German Chancellor, the daughter of an East German pastor, Angela Merkel, at the forefront of European life. Her words yesterday so needing to be heard for the times in which we live. See:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/merkel-marks-fall-of-berlin-wall-and-urges-europe-to-fight-for-freedom-democracy-equality-1.407812

Angela Merkels’ speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d533-6m7i5o

In the midst of disturbing, turbulant and dangerous times, a Day of Remembrance and Reflection during which I read this evening my friend,  Malcolm Duncan’s poem that he wrote in 2014, on the centenary of the First World War.

Remember Me” by Malcolm Duncan

Ten decades ago

the World went

to war

in the War

to end all wars

but the problem is

it didn’t.

16 million lives

lay poppy-strewn

on fields drenched in blood.

Futures stolen.

Dreams lost.

Lives seeping

into soil

at Ypres,

the Somme,

Verdun,

Cambrai,

Marne.

A quarter

of a million

boys went

to war,

‘For King

and Country.’

They went

to change

the world.

Those who returned

came back

hollow eyed.

Their hope

eaten by

the teeth

of the trenches.

Such a

bloody

waste

of life.

That Great War

was not

a great war.

It was a Great Slaughter.

Aren’t all wars?

Isn’t slaughter

a better word

even if it is more

offensive?

So I stand

holding a poppy.

Small,

red

poppy.

Beautiful

in it’s simplicity.

Blood red….

birthed in fields

where once young men

became old before

their time.

Its leaf

pointed to 11

to remind me

of the moment that it stopped.

I want to meet the parents

who lost their children

and tell them

I admire them.

I want them to know

they had more courage,

more valour,

more everything than me.

What would I have done?

Saluted my boys as they walked away?

Stood proud and tall?

Or would I have

Gripped their sleeves?

Begged them not to go?

Pleaded with them to stay?

That war

made heroes

of mothers

who lost their boys,

fathers

who lost their friends.

It did not

matter whether

you were

French

or German

or British

or Australian

or Italian.

Humanity trumps nationality,

at least it should.

The enemy lines reached into

homes from Derry to Dusseldorf

From Sydney to the Seine.

The world was shrouded in sorrow,

Drenched in blood.

What then

of the hope

of Christ

that swords

would be ploughshares,

that chains

would be broken,

that peace

would reign?

That hope lay buried

in the dark soil of men’s hatred.

But look further back.

Not ten decades

but ten times ten

and ten times nine

and see the answer

to this blood-letting there.

Another young man’s blood

seeped into the soil.

It soaked the ground,

saturated the earth,

changed the world.

Innocent.

Beautiful.

Perfect.

Son.

Loved by His Father.

Cherished by His mother.

Betrayed by His friends.

Butchered by His own.

Bearing a weight

not His to bear,

He sank His love

into the soil

and cried

for forgiveness.

He carried the very hatred

that we have held onto.

He emptied the gun.

He defused the bomb.

He took the bullet

for us,

for the world.

The darkness

was absorbed

by Him

but we

have loved

the dark

more

than the Light,

so we

continue

to plunge

the world

into darkness.

We do it with our words.

We do it as nations.

We do it as people.

But God has borne this pain.

He has carried this weight.

He has cracked the seal on our hatred.

It is us that will not let go.

So today

if you remember

the sons

and daughters

that died

remember this Son.

This beautiful perfect Son.

This One who bore it all

and offers His life

to you and

to me.

Let your tears

be offered

at the foot

of His cross

because His suffering,

His death,

His pain is deeper

than anything

we have seen

or known.

And in it

we find hope.

His pit was

deeper

than Ypres,

deeper

than the Somme,

deeper

than Verdun,

deeper

than Cambrai

deeper than  the

trenches at Marne.

His love

is the only love

that can break

this curse of hatred.

His cross

stands

still.

Offering life.

Offering hope.

Offering peace

to all.

‘Remember me.’

‘Remember me’

‘Remember me’

© Malcolm Duncan

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