Finding peace on Remembrance Sunday
Several years ago, I was at a large dinner, filled with people I did not know. I was looking forward to an enjoyable evening. But my heart sank as I found myself seated towards the very end of the table, next to a withdrawn-looking man. He looked pale and quiet and gave the impression of not wanting to be there at all.
Oh well, I thought, and I sat down next to him to start a conversation. As expected, the man was hard to draw out. He didn’t seem to ‘do’ small talk.
But as we started eating he opened up a bit. He was a youngish and American, and said he was currently based in Germany.
“What do you do there?” I asked, trying to push the conversation along.
“I live at a military base with my wife and kids,” he said. “We’re on leave right now.” He seemed reluctant to say more.
“What do you do when you are not on leave?” I persisted.
The man explained that he was helicopter pilot, in charge of search and rescue missions in Afghanistan and the middle east. His main job was to fly his helicopter into a combat zone shortly after the outbreak of armed conflict. He and his small team then had to search for injured soldiers and look for bodies of those who had been killed. Both the injured and the dead bodies would be flown back, so that that they could either be treated in hospital, or buried by their families.
I felt myself sinking into silence. I could hear laughter and jokes coming from the other end of the table. I looked at this man, with his sunken eyes and pale face.
“How do you find the work?” I asked, knowing how clumsy that sounded.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he replied. “I hope what I’m doing is useful. Someone has to pick up the bodies.”
I have never forgotten this conversation, nor this man’s face. His eyes seemed far older than the rest of his body, and now I understood why. He was a stark reminder of the words of Benjamin Franklin: “There is no such thing as a good war, or a bad peace.”
Most Westerners of my generation have not physically experienced war. Remembrance Sunday is our annual reminder of how it has shaped humanity, and how it is still reshaping the world today.
We all know that war and Remembrance Sunday itself pose challenging questions.
Are there some fights worth fighting? Is there such thing as a ‘just war’? If we truly believe in the Bible’s words: “Thou shalt not kill,” are we obliged to find another way? Is Remembrance Day actually part of the problem, as it keeps us dwelling on past horrors? Are we in fact becoming less warlike?
The answers to all these difficult questions must come from every person’s conscience.
But the Bible does help. From the New Testament, we learn of a peace that is not of this world; a peace that passes all understanding. It’s a peace we instinctively know, and as humanity we cannot ultimately resist it, for it is life and love itself.
We remember this eternal life, the springing forth of hope, in the poppies we wear to mark Remembrance Day. They remind us to have a little faith. They tell us that good will prevail.
Faith in goodness is at the heart of today’s Gospel story.
Five women fill their lamps with oil in preparation for the arrival of Christ, the bridegroom. In the darkness of the night, they are ready for the morning. They know that something wonderful is coming, and they want to be prepared.
On Remembrance Day, as we honour those who have lost their lives in war, may we also reaffirm our own faith in goodness. May we affirm that good will prevail, and peace is coming.
Each time we affirm this, we make peace in our own hearts with the world around us.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, may we right now in this church send our loving prayers to those who have died in wars in the past, who right now are losing their lives in conflict, and who will serve and die in the future. For love knows no past or present, and Your Grace is all powerful.
May we honour these men and women by ourselves sowing the seeds of peace in our daily lives. May each of us find our own peace, and may we extend that peace to those around us. Please help us to do this, especially when it feels hard.
And by the grace of God, may every one of us here today play our unique and precious part in the healing of the world.