NO GREATER LOVE THAN THIS …..

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“Some of us remembered that sunny last evening in June, when we had assembled with such high hopes in the trenches, the day before the Somme offensive began. How we had jested and joked, even collecting pieces of chalk wherewith to label as our trophies the guns we were so sure of taking! Some of us too, remembered the next night, when, with every officer but one a casualty, and our dead hanging thick on the German wire, we had been withdrawn, sweating and shaking and shattered. It took us three months to recover from that blow.” November 1916

These words are taken from Twelve Days on the Somme by Sidney Rogerson, and although they make uncomfortable reading, I think it’s right, upon this 100th anniversary, that we should be reminded of what life was actually like for those soldiers who endured that particular conflict.

The first war, was of course described as ‘The Great War’, the war to end all wars and with 20, 000 British troops dying on the first day of that particular battle, we can see why many thought that they had already paid a sufficiently high price to ensure the nation’s peace and trusted that surely, the world wouldn’t fall into such a sad and terrible situation again – and yet as we all know barely 30 years later the Second World war was upon us, and there have been various other conflicts since.

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We are mindful of the fact that Jesus said “Greater love has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13) and its significance for those who have died in conflict defending their country and way of life is obvious. Yet we need to remember that the context of this verse is not war, death or pain – but love, for it immediately follows the command ‘to love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15.12). Military people know the importance of following commands and this is an important one for us all, for we must never allow anger, hatred or pain to define us as human beings. For if we do, then we have allowed these sentiments to rob us of a precious part of our humanity. ‘Loving God and our neighbours as ourselves’ doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for what we know to be right or make sacrifices, but we do so precisely because we wish to preserve all that is right, decent and honourable. This sometimes means that we have to lift ourselves above a basic ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality (which may be no more than a basic desire for revenge) and strive to reach those higher standards and ideals that we cherish and wish all people to live by. The men who died upon the Somme and other such conflicts, ultimately did so because although they hated war, they were striving to preserve our way of life, freedom and peace. They were fighting for something greater than themselves. To this extent, their selfless act echoes the one made by Jesus when he died upon the cross, the one dying for the many, but achieving in his case for each one of us, the forgiveness of sins and salvation. It certainly wasn’t anger, fear or hatred which drove him to the cross but love, which is why we remember him and all those who have died in a similar selfless fashion with the greatest of respect, praise and gratitude. ‘The Great War’ may not have been the war to end all wars, but we value and respect all those whose efforts tried to make it so. Please join us this Remembrance Sunday as together we commemorate all those who have laid down their lives for us.

 


“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15.13


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FURY, FAITH, FORTITUDE AND FORGIVENESS – REFLECTIONS ON REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell

As our nation turns once again towards Remembrance Sunday, we can note that 2015 has certainly been a year of commemoration, celebration and quiet reflection, marking as it did both the 70th anniversaries of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945) and VJ Day (Victory over Japan Day, 15th August 1945) along with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The latter was marked by the magnificent sight and sound of 40 Spitfires and Hurricanes, and a single Blenheim, patrolling our coastlines once more back in September. No doubt there are many more significant occasions, notable events and distinguished acts of service that we as a nation should do our best to remember and take pride in. Not that we glorify war, because war is always a terrible thing and the cost of it purely in terms of human suffering is always immense, and yet despite its fury, we pay tribute to all those whose stoicism, faith and fortitude preserved our freedom, values and British way of life, remembering especially those who died in the process – and to this end I would like to invite and encourage you to join us at one of our Remembrance Day Services across the Benefice as we remember those who gave their lives in service of the nation, and give thanks to God for the freedom we enjoy.

Sadly our world is far from perfect, and when evil raises its ugly head we are constantly challenged as to what our response should be. It is Edmund Burke who is credited with the famous saying that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and although it’s hard to pin down a definitive version of that phrase or even its attribution to Burke, we all know what it means. Ultimately, we all need to be prepared to ‘stand up and be counted’, for when it comes to challenging evil we appreciate that we can’t always pass that particular responsibility on to others. One such person was Edith Cavell, the World War 1 British nurse who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers in Brussels from all sides without distinction. As a nurse she refused to ignore the suffering of the wounded soldiers she came across regardless of their nationality, treating them all equally as human beings. However, her medical impartiality didn’t mean that she was neutral as far as the war effort was concerned, for with the help of Belgian and French colleagues she helped over 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Eventually she was arrested and found guilty by a German military court of ‘assisting men to the enemy’, culminating with her execution by firing squad on the 12 October 1915. The railway carriage or ‘Cavell Van’ which brought her body back to England has recently been on display outside ‘The Forum’ in Norwich to mark the centenary of her death. However, on the evening before she died, Edith Cavell wrote in her diary some very moving words. She wrote “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Edith Cavell was a Christian woman who was magnanimous in death, even forgiving her executioners. Her actions were no doubt influenced by the example of Jesus, who had in life exalted his disciples not only ‘to love God and your neighbour as yourself’ but their enemies too, and forgave his executioners even as they put him to death upon the cross. As previously mentioned, war is a terrible thing and sadly sometimes can’t be avoided, but it shouldn’t be the war or acts of violence which define us. It should be our attitude to life and the way we choose to live it which should be our lasting epitaph.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6.31