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Remembrance Day – The Right Rev’d David Urquhart

 

‘War will continue to the end’ (Daniel 9:26)

The national movement of remembrance started after what was called ‘the war to end wars’ in a combination of grief and loss, pride and hope. This mixture is kept alive in the Albert Hall (last night) and at the Cenotaph and in hundreds of cities, towns and villages (this morning), on web sites and even in an extra historical pamphlet distributed in yesterday’s edition of a national newspaper.

There is hardly a family in the land that cannot refer to at least one member in the past 100 years who was affected by violent conflict at home or abroad. In the 1st World War alone some 2700 of this University died (18% of combatants, of whom many were from Worcester College).

And now we have not mainly inter- but intra-national conflict. This was brought home vividly to me in my first visit to Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (in 2003) to minister to a community where the local bishop had had to flee because of tribal violence between the Hema and the Lendu. The tiny Cessna plane landed cautiously on a grass runway and my journey was made secure by a band of heavily armed child soldiers.

Added to this is the murderous intent of global ideological assassins. In the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Tuesday the wreath laying ceremony at the Diplomatic Service Memorial will name 18 members from Sir Christopher Ewart-Biggs in Dublin in 1976 to Mr Ali Ghazi Abdulhussein in Basra in 2006 who have died in terrorist attacks.

If these are not our memories, and we missed the school trip to the Western Front or the Concentration Camps, [Auschwitz] there are still numerous feature films that remind us of the violence and the emotions that are expressed in war, terrorism and tyranny. The opening minutes of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ are a graphic illustration of 6th June 1944, (but you might also turn to Bobby Sands’ Northern Ireland in ‘Hunger’ or Idi Amin’s Uganda in ‘Last King of Scotland’)
where the still-present themes of patriotism, bewilderment, bereavement and relieved thankfulness are woven through the stories.

But what are we to think and do with the unpalatable evidence that ‘war will continue to the end’?

We do right to remember the dead (here in Oxford we have just erected a new memorial plaque to centuries-old martyrs! we might visit the courageous patients with their mangled bodies in Birmingham’s Selly Oak military wards) but how do we keep a clear vision and practice of peace;
how do we secure and nurture our values for a flourishing society;
how do we strengthen ourselves when violence impinges again and again?

The writer of the Book of Daniel (over 2000 years ago) hoped, as we do, for a resolution to all this and offered a pattern of putting things right.

‘to finish the transgression
to put an end to sin
to atone for iniquity
to bring in everlasting righteousness
to seal both vision and prophet
to anoint a most holy place
(9:24)

Now this pattern of development does not encourage a naïve modernism, fuelling the myths of progress, but a profound realism about human weakness and fallibility.

‘To finish the transgression’ reminds us that we need power and authority to make and keep peace.
As a Highlander (an ethnic group from which came many who made military aggression both a pastime and a career)
I keep on the wall at home three 18th C broadswords of the kind used at Culloden and on a shelf the archetypical dented silver cigarette case that saved my grandfather at the 2ndBattle of Ypres. These serve to remind me of both the reality and the personal cost of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.
I also read (John Gray ‘Black Mass’ or Al Qaeda and what it means to be modern’)

Remember to PRAY for armed forces and for the diplomats, UN troops and national leaders in Great Lakes Africa.

‘To bring in everlasting righteousness’ reminds us that we require a clear understanding of the public values to which we subscribe, asking, for example, for gifts of unselfishness and co-operation in order to create a fruitful society.
Here we might benefit from reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ‘The Home we Build Together’ and a vision of a Covenant and a new language to articulate our human desires and aspirations.

Remember to PRAY for political and community leaders and particularly for President-elect Barack Obama that he is protected from the assassin’s bullet.

‘To seal the vision’ reminds us that humans need to have a firm personal faith to keep going when unreasoning tragedy strikes.

The image of Christ carrying his cross (John 19:17) takes us to the heart of God entering into this weakness and bearing suffering caused by deliberate violence. Through his death on a cross Christians believe that sins are forgiven [there is atonement]; in his resurrection, that life can begin again [the vision is sealed]; by the power of Holy Spirit that is possible to live [the righteous life].

Remember to PRAY for the ‘hope within you’
and to do so together.

Jesus in the midst of terrible suffering and imminent death, looking down from the execution cross, commissioned his friend John to care for his mother Mary. We can imagine them breaking bread and sharing the cup of wine, [this is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for you] together at home with the words of Jesus in their minds
‘do this in remembrance of me’

‘War will continue to the end’ so as we know ourselves in the remembrance of all these things and as we bear responsibilities for the peace of our 21st C global village let us benefit from the
beautiful grounds here at Worcester and pause at four points, recommended on the web site, the Orchard, Lake, Lawn and finally the Chapel.
Here in this holy place the prayer recommended from the prophet Isaiah (43:1-3) encourages us to remember God’s promise even in war and terror

“Do not fear, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine”.

The Rt. Rev’d David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham
9th November 2008