Lest We Forget

Micah 4.1-4, Romans 5.1-8 and John 15.9-17

Rev'd Daniel Irvine

He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid;

These words from the prophet Micah are just one such instance of the ancient hope for lasting peace, not only for one group or tribe or nation, which might be twisted into an understanding of peace based on power and force, like the Pax Romana.

Rather the hope that was held by Micah and so many others was for a lasting peace through justice as understood as that perfect justice which comes from the Lord, where it is not that nations are no longer able to wage against one another but that they no longer want to wage war.

There is no longer any need for it.

This past week we observed Remembrance Day, where at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, 102 years ago, the guns of the Western Front fell silent, ending just over four years of bitter and bloody conflict.

History now knows it as the First World War.

At the time it was normally referred to as the Great War.

To many it was hoped to be the War to End All Wars.

Sadly the rest of the twentieth century that was to follow was to prove just how far from the mark that wish was.

How far from that prophetic hope for the time when nation will no longer lift up sword against nation, we really were.

How far away we remain as bitter and bloody conflicts continue to rage around the world as we creep into the third decade of the twenty first century.

How incredible it seems that the global pandemic, which has closed down cities and countries and crippled economies, has not been able to even slow down the various military conflicts that still engulf our planet.

...War has always sat in uneasy tension with the Christian faith.

While it is a sad reality of our present existence it should not be, as has often been the case in the past, glorified and promoted as many churches have done, and some continue to do.

There are even times when I feel the need to suppress a cringe at the militaristic and nationalistic language that pervades some of our hymns and which we often sing without even realising what we are saying.

Yet the sacrifice rendered by those who did pay the ultimate price in service to their nation, whatever that nation might be, does deserve to be remembered and honoured.

And as I stood with the year nine class I was looking after on Wednesday morning during their Remembrance Day Service and the deputy principal (a good friend of mine), spoke of how these men and women gave their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy, I wondered just how true that statement was.

Yes, I admit that many men and women volunteer to join the armed forces during war with these great philosophical ideas floating through their minds.

“For King and Country” was the great cry of the First World War, but in that case it really was about imperial dominance than anything connected to freedom.

The Second World War gave a much clearer ethical mandate to stop an inhumane government wreaking untold suffering on millions...but did it justify the firebombing of Dresden and other German cities, or the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

So while these notions of freedom and justice might well have helped to encourage many to enlist I still doubt whether they were the motivators that led to their sacrifice.

When I think back over the histories and read accounts from the front, what I am struck with is the incredible bonds that were formed in the fires of battle and unimaginable hardships that these men and women faced and I can’t help but reach the conclusion that the ultimate sacrifice these men and women made was not for some abstract notion, but rather was made for the friends alongside them.

Jesus said that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

We should truly be thankful that so many were ultimately willing to follow Jesus’ words and make the ultimate sacrifice for their friends, but at that thought we should be remediated to keep in our hearts and lives the only commandment that Jesus claimed for himself, “that we love one another as he have loved us.”

And in doing so find that we are working towards that great day when swords shall be beaten into plough shears and the justice of the Lord shall reign supreme.

In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

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