Remembrance Sunday: How will you remember?
Over the last few years, I have found it a challenge to understand quite how I should mark Remembrance Sunday as a Christian. I’ve grown concerned that we are too close to glorifying war and the military and allowing our acts of remembrance to become nationalistic.
My concern has only increased since joining CHIPS and having the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the call on all of us who follow Jesus to be peacemakers. Any war or violent conflict has devastating consequences. Even the most realistic of our films or TV programmes will sanitise the horror of the death and destruction they bring.
I read recently that, of the 70 to 85 million who died in World War Two worldwide, the majority – some 50 to 55 million people – are estimated to have been civilians. As Christians, we believe that every single one of those civilians, along with every soldier who died, was made in the image of God and was of immeasurable value to him.
That thought crystallises for me one of the reasons why I feel we must do more on Remembrance Sunday than just remember those in our armed forces who have lost their lives in war.
For that reason, I believe confession has to be an important theme on Remembrance Sunday.
Speaking on the beatitude ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in his series ‘Studies in the Sermon of the Mount’, Martin Lloyd Jones once said:
“Why are there wars in the world? Why is there constant international tension? ……… Why have we had these world wars in this century? Why is there a threat of further war and all this unhappiness and turmoil and discord amongst men? According to this beatitude there is only one answer to these questions – sin. Nothing else; it is just sin.
The explanation of all our troubles is human lust, greed, selfishness, self-centredness; it is the cause of all the trouble and discord, whether between individuals, or between groups within a nation, or between nations themselves.”
The seeds of war and violent conflict are in all of us. Remembrance Sunday presents us all with an opportunity to look inside our own hearts, to see where our behaviour might breed conflict and to confess our violent actions, words and thoughts.
Secondly, I believe we need to remember all the victims and casualties of war. As Christians, alongside our remembering all those British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in two world wars (and other conflicts since), we must include and mourn the millions of civilians who died and those killed or injured while serving in volunteer, non-combat, conscientious objector and alternative roles. Still others were attacked or imprisoned for their refusal to play any part in war – some even dying as a result of their convictions.
And we must remember the soldiers on the ‘other side’. Many of us will have been inspired by the story of Harry Patch who died 10 years ago. At 111 years old, he was the last surviving soldier of World War 1. His experiences left him unable to speak about the war for most of his life but in his final years he spoke out about the pointlessness of war and became an ambassador for peace and reconciliation. ‘Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims’ he said.
Finally, as Christians, Remembrance Sunday is a perfect moment for us to reaffirm that war is never the way to resolve conflict and that we are called to be peacemakers and pursue peace.
Jesus was a peacemaker. He knew what it was like to live under a violent, oppressive regime yet he refused to use violence even when his followers expected him to and when people believed their Messiah would lead a violent overthrow of their enemies.
All four gospels tell the remarkable story of Peter and Malchus. When Jesus was arrested before his trial, Peter responded by pulling out a sword and using it to cut off the ear of one of the Roman servants involved in the arrest. John’s gospel names him as Malchus and tells how Jesus first rebuked Peter for his action, and then reversed it by miraculously healing the wounded servant’s ear (John 18:10-11).
The contrast between the actions of Peter and Jesus is powerful. Rather than respond to violence with violence as Peter had done, Jesus responds with love. His last recorded miracle before his death was healing the wound of his enemy. And as he says in his rebuke to Peter, he could have called down legions of angels if violence had been the answer. Instead, he chooses non-violence – fully aware that he will suffer and lose his life as a result.
Today, as we look around us, we are confronted with an almost overwhelming number of divisions and conflicts in our communities, our country, and across the world. Remembrance Sunday provides us with an opportunity to follow the example of Jesus and reaffirm our personal commitment to being peacemakers and to pray for and pursue peace.
And we can thank God and look forward to the time when there will be peace on earth as his kingdom is fully established. Wars will cease, enemies will be reconciled and the machinery of warfare will no longer exist.
Andrew Jackson, Co-Director for Development, CHIPS
However you are marking this Remembrance Sunday, we would love you to join us at CHIPS in praying for peace! For prayer ideas and other content, download our resource pack