The National Service of Remembrance, held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall always takes place on the Sunday nearest to 11 November. This year it will take place on Sunday 13 November. Remembrance Sunday provides the nation with a physical reminder of all those who have served and sacrificed, with British and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors, airmen and women represented, together with members of the emergency services and civilians, ensuring that no-one is forgotten. It is an amazingly moving service – even for generations born long after the war. This year, of course, it will be marked by the presence of our new King, Charles III. It will be a memorable occasion
However, we should not limit our remembering to the war dead of Britain and the Commonwealth and their allies. We should remember too all those who have lived and died in the service of others.
What is more, with the present conflict in the Ukraine, we should remember the many thousands of Ukrainians who have lost their lives, their homes, and their livelihoods in this conflict – and let’s not forget the many young Russian soldiers who have found themselves being used as cannon fodder too.
For the Ukrainian people there is a particular poignancy in their remembering. For they remember not just who their present sufferings, but also their past sufferings. They remember the Great Famine of 1932-1933 when thanks to Stalin’s policies more than seven million Ukrainians starved to death.
Let’s ensure that our praying this Remembrance Sunday has this wider dimension, and that this wider dimension is also included in the Scriptures that are read and the sermons that are preached. Micah 5.2-5 with its promise of the ruler from Bethlehem comes to mind: “People all over the earth will acknowledge his greatness, and he will bring peace”. Isaiah 11.1-9 has also a dream of a new David whose kingdom will inaugurate a universal age of peace.
War is such a dreadful business. It brings only pain, misery and waste. In the words of G..A. Studdert Kennedy (‘Woodbine Willie’):
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God – War!
On the cornerstone of a wall at the United Nations headquarters in New York the words taken from Isaiah 2.4 and Micah 4.3 are inscribed: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares. And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall there be war any more”. But as Isaiah and Micah make clear, this peace will become a reality only when nations are willing to submit to God’s teaching that comes “out of Zion” (Isaiah 2.3; Micah 4.2), where the one true God has revealed himself. This is not to denigrate the work of the United Nations: our world would be much worse without it. But a united world will only happen when God’s kingdom comes. It is to this kingdom we look when we in the words of the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Your kingdom come”.