A sermon given on Remembrance Sunday 2019
Remembering the two great wars
We gather together each year to remember the First and Second World Wars. To look back with sadness at the huge loss of life. To look back with gratitude at those who gave their lives to secure our freedom.
It’s important we remember, and don’t forget.
There are many reasons why it’s important to remember. One of those is that there are people who deny what happened. People who spread misinformation.
The most obvious example is people who deny the holocaust. Historians estimate that between 5 and 6 million Jews were killed during the Second World War. A few historians have responsibly analysed the evidence, and revised some of the details . But a string of others have denied this ever took place.
Some say that Nazi Germany merely deported the Jews and did not kill them. Others reduce the numbers killed to a few hundred thousand.
It’s a tragedy when people deny any of the events of the Second World War, not just the holocaust. Great atrocities were committed. Great sacrifices were made to purchase our freedom. Those things should not be forgotten.
In the years immediately following the war, many ordinary people in Britain and Europe were struck with disbelief. They found it hard to believe things had been as bad as they were hearing. But it was easy to correct this disbelief. Many who had fought in the war were back home and could tell of the things they saw and heard.
But increasingly we have a problem. The last World War I veteran was Florence Green, who died in 2012 at the age of 110. World War II would not be forgotten quite so quickly. Maybe a couple of hundred thousand British veterans are still alive. But as there are fewer and fewer still alive to tell the harrowing tales, there is a danger that we forget. And that misinformation goes unchecked.
Occasionally people ask if Remembrance Day is still relevant. The two great wars of the last century are so long ago. Shouldn’t we be remembering those who died in Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Gulf instead? Well, of course we should honour those who never returned from more recent conflicts. It’s very important we do. But we must not forget the two great wars, that changed the face of Britain forever.
So we gather each year to remember. The names of those who died are engraved in stone. History books are written. We enact, and we write down, to make sure that we never forget.
Remembering Jesus of Nazareth
One of our Bible readings was written by Simon Peter. The fisherman that Jesus called to be one of his first disciples.
He also saw and heard some amazing things, things that must never be forgotten.
He saw Jesus of Nazareth die on a Roman cross. A cruel way for anyone to die, but made worse that the sky went black in the middle of the day. Jesus suffered not only the physical agony of crucifixion, but the searing anger of God at our human selfishness. Jesus suffered far worse than any atrocity in a concentration camp.
And then he came back to life, another extraordinary event Simon Peter would never forget. To witness Jesus, risen from the dead, was to see with your own eyes that death itself is beaten. And it is to see the one who will come back to judge each and every one of us.
Simon Peter saw and heard the events that made it possible for God to forgive us all we’ve done wrong.
Simon Peter saw and heard the events that made it possible for us to experience life to the full, life as it was always meant to be.
Simon Peter saw and heard the events that made it possible for us to have a certain future, for us to be given new bodies that no longer hurt or wear out or die.
Simon Peter saw and heard all this, as he saw Jesus teach, heal, die, rise again and return to heaven.
Just as there are sceptics who deny the atrocities of the World Wars, so right from the early days there were sceptics who denied these things happened. Even the Roman soldiers tasked with guarding the tomb cooked up a story about the disciples stealing the body. A likely tail that – given that many of the disciples were later to die for their belief they saw him alive.
But that’s the point. While the first generation was still alive, they could set the record straight when the Jesus of Nazareth deniers got hold of the microphone.
But now, in the mid 60s AD, there’s a problem. That whole generation is dying out. And when those who saw these things with their own eyes die, who will set the record straight?
So Peter wrote it down. The Bible reading we had was an excerpt from a letter Simon Peter wrote because he knew he would die soon. It’s why we have Marks’ gospel, Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, too. Most people think Marks’ gospel was basically Peter’s memoirs.
Peter writes it all down.
Lest we forget.
There are some things that are so important they must never be forgotten.
We mustn’t let the deniers rewrite history. We mustn’t lose sight of precious events because revisionists deny the past, or reinterpret what took place.
We must never forget the atrocities and terrible loss of life during the two great wars. We must never forget the brave sacrifices made by others to purchase our freedom.
And we must never forget the far worse atrocity and terrible loss of life, the death of Jesus on the cross. We must never forget his brave sacrifice, purchasing us a freedom far more wonderful than being liberated in 1918 and 1945.
Indeed, for someone who did that, solemn remembrance once a year may make sure we don’t forget, but it’s an inadequate response. Someone who did that for us deserves our lifelong loyalty, love and devotion.