Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 8 November 2020 (Remembrance Sunday)
Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
In 2009 I undertook a pilgrimage to Rome, walking from Canterbury along the old pilgrim route through France, Switzerland and Italy.
About ten days in I found myself passing the part of France which played host to the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the first world war. On a deserted country road, from amidst the endless crop fields appeared a lonely cemetery – where, gathered around a cross with an upturned sword in its centre, stood about two dozen graves – victims of the British forces killed in that war.
One grave especially moved me. It read: A soldier of the great war – 5th September 1918 – known unto God.
On Remembrance Day it has, in the last century, become our custom to remember the victims of war. As Christians, as well as remembering the way in which they lost their lives, and the way in which this loss preserved our freedoms, it is our solemn duty and privilege to pray for their souls, too.
Some we know, such as those on our war memorials, and some who have died in wars have become well known in their own right, such as the poet Wilfred Owen.
There are others whose names we do not know: soldiers declared missing in action, presumed dead; bodies on the field of war that cannot be identified. Of course, the most well known of these is the Unknown Soldier of Westminster Abbey, standing for all who have died in conflict; but there are many more, unnamed, lying far from home: but they all, as that headstone reminds us, are known unto God.
On All Souls Day, this Monday past, I reminded us all that death is part of the human condition – one we cannot escape. But on Remembrance Day we must consider the reasons that lead so many men and women to conflict, both historically and in this our own day.
We often describe armed conflict as a “necessary evil” – not something to celebrate for its own sake but which nonetheless prevents a greater loss of life. And yet, we as Christians hold to the promise of God in the book of Isaiah that one day, conflict will be no more: when the reign of the Prince of Peace begins; when swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
This is a call we all must answer: to work for peace, to seek the end of conflict. This is a call that must be answered internationally, nationally, even locally – but ultimately it must be answered here: in the human heart. We, each of us, must choose to seek peace and pursue it, we must all seek to follow our God, who guides our feet into the way of peace.