SERVICES AND RECENT SERMONS
Alison's Remembrance Day sermon:
We have recently passed the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War
Next year will mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain – the battle fought in the air over our own country - actually over the south of England - a decisive battle which, against all the odds, turned the tide of the Second World War - forcing Hitler to abandon his plans to invade our country. But it was a costly battle. Over 1,000 aircraft were lost from July- October 1940.
We all have our own particular memories and associations with Remembrance Sunday.
My own began in the place I grew up in – Biggin Hill, in Kent. Biggin Hill claims to have been - in the context of the Battle of Britain - the most famous fighter station in the world. On Remembrance Sunday, through the years I sang in the choir in my parish church, I was taken to the Remembrance Sunday service at another St George’s – the RAF Chapel on the airfield – the chapel was built after the war to house a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives while stationed there - those who served in the RAF or in the WAAF. Outside the chapel are a Spitfire and a Hurricane – standing as if they are a guard of honour.
So I had a very direct experience of the meaning of Remembrance – the last post was always played, the RAF were still there at that time and so there were men and women in uniform, wearing their medals and their poppies in pride and yet also in sadness. The war seemed to me a long time ago then – now I think how fresh that memory must have been for most people there.
I felt the seriousness of the occasion – and yet it took many years before the 453 names on that memorial became real to me. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s it was difficult for me then – when wars continued in the world - to understand what those young pilots had died for.
Wilfrid Owen, who suffered so terribly in the First war - his poetry made sense to me then as a young person - this is the first line of the angry and ironic poem Anthem for Doomed Youth:
What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Since the end of the Second World War there have only been short periods of time that the world was free of war. The total number of deaths caused by war during the 20th Century has been estimated at 187 million and is probably higher. The true horror and futility of war should never be forgotten or ignored, and we should acknowledge the cruelty and waste of young lives.
The sheer numbers who perished, the terrible conditions young people endured then and now, the terrible effects of wounds – both physical and psychological – in our prayers we acknowledge all this before God and pray for those who continue to suffer.
But to say that every war is futile cannot be true. We honour today those who lived and died in war because they lived and died with a purpose. We remember them not as lists of names, but because they were real people made in the image of God. When I think about what was at stake in the Second World War – the fight against fascism, the threat from Nazi Germany – I think that what was actually at stake was this: that those who fought did so in the knowledge that what threatened us was a power that refused to see all human beings as made in the image of God. A power that saw some human beings as expendable, as less than human, by virtue of their ethnicity, their disability or their way of life.
A power that must never be allowed to triumph.
Genesis chapter 1, verse 27 – So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them and God blessed them.
We are made in the image of God.
And further - God came to our world as one like us, as a fully human person, as Jesus, notwithstanding that our world is broken and torn apart by conflict. Nevertheless, God still comes to us, to make us His children, to make us His own. As St Paul says in Romans 8:
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. When we cry Abba, Father, it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – in fact, we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.
Suffering with purpose. We honour the dead because they were made in God’s image, and they died that we might continue to live in that knowledge, in that dignity, as children of God and that we might have the freedom to proclaim this truth to those who come after us.
I want to finish with some words from Brian Kingcome who was a pilot who flew from the Biggin Hill fighter station during the Battle of Britain.
“I walk with ghosts when I revisit my old station, but they are friendly ones. I mourn them, but they had counted the cost and they died with regret but without surprise. They were typical of their generation, and their generation was typical of all others. The young of all generations are the same. They may dress differently, and have different rites and rituals, but give them a crisis and they are all the same. I salute them.”
To listen to Alison's sermon from 3rd November, please click play: