November is a month of contrasts in terms of the church calendar. We enter through the celebration of All Saints Day on November 1st but almost imperceptibly we move into All Souls Day on November 2nd where we commemorate the faithful departed. A few days later, people will gather in churches all over the country to take part in services of Remembrance as we remember those who have died in past and present conflicts. November 26th ushers in the celebration of Christ the King as we worship Jesus risen, ascended and glorified before returning once again to the beginning of the church calendar with Advent Sunday. These milestones in the church’s year remind us that we are a community of pilgrim people, travelling together on a journey, learning, sharing, supporting and rejoicing.
In 2014, I began my Remembrance Day Sermon with these words: “On 3rd August 1914, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, explained to the House of Commons why Britain was now obliged to go to war. Returning to the Foreign Office he worked at his desk till dusk. Looking up from his desk at the Foreign Office on the evening of 3rd August 1914, Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary, saw the man outside his window lighting the gas lamps in St. James’s Park. Aware of the inevitability of war, turning to his companion he said “The lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. During these last 4 years, we have observed anniversaries of some of the major battles of World War 1, the Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres to name but a few, our reflections fuelling our regret and remorse but maybe also leading towards a new resolve. On 11th November this year, we approach another anniversary, the end of World War 1. How shall we acknowledge this? We cannot and must not forget the past, but we cannot remain in the past. We can allow the past to inform the future but to do so we must step boldly out of the past and resolve to create a future build on peace. But how do we do this, when the carnage of the past revisits us in the many conflicts currently affecting our world, Syria, Israel, Yemen, Democratic republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq to name just a few.
In the 2018 Reith lectures, historian Margaret MacMillan asked if war was an essential part of being human. God created human beings in his own image, male and female he created them. Surely this suggests that war was not part of the original design of our peace-loving creator. And yet, as early as the 4th chapter of Genesis we witness Cain killing his brother Abel in cold blood. There is little doubt that war is a complex concept and to offer simplistic answers to these questions does not do justice to the subject. However, I am certain that God calls all his children to be peace-keepers and peace makers and I urge us all as did the Apostle Paul in his correspondence with Timothy “to pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”