On November 11th this year, we will remember World War I, 100 years on.
I have no personal memories of either of the two World Wars. I am too young. I have no-one in my family who has served in our Armed Forces and so my understanding and my remembering will be very different from some of you reading this today.
But visiting the battlefields and cemeteries of WWI in France and Belgium, I have participated in the daily ceremony of Remembrance at the Menin Gate, travelled to Passchendaele and visited Tyne Cot – the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world – and read some of the tens of thousands of names inscribed on gleaming white headstones or on the surrounding stone wall.
I’ve also been to Langemark – the German military cemetery and reflected on the different atmosphere in that place and on feelings evoked by the sombre flat memorial markers and the grey stone crosses.
In November 1918, in tribute to John McRae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, an American woman, Moina Michael, pinned a silk poppy to her coat, and distributed 25 more, in honour of fallen soldiers.
The Royal British Legion, which adopted the poppy in 1921, distributed 45 million paper poppies in 2010.
The Nottinghamshire ‘Big Poppy Knit’ this year asked for 11,000 knitted poppies, one for each life lost from Nottinghamshire in WWI. Over 90,000 have been received. The remembering continues.
It is vital that we keep on remembering. Someone wisely said, “To remember is to be human”.
If we do not remember where we have come from, we will not know who we are. Remembrance Sunday says something vital about our sense of identity and mutual belonging, not only with those around us, but with those who have gone before – and those who will come after.
Our obligation to honour the memory of those who have gone before, is entwined with our obligation to preserve for future generations the kind of society which has been nurtured in this land over many generations, and which we have received in trust: a society which is indivisible from its Christian origins and culture, however obscured those origins and that culture appear for much of the time.
The Christian understanding of ‘peace’ is more than the avoidance or war or the absence of conflict. It is about building relations between people, communities and nations, which positively and constructively create love and care for others founded on justice for all.
There is something about the human disposition that tends towards hope and the positive, even when things are not good.
As we remember the sacrifice of the many, let not the enduring tragedy of lost lives, and the experiences and traumas of those who survived, be in vain.
Let us build relationships of peace and justice in our world, starting right here in Hucknall.