This month our parish is leading the local commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One. You will be aware that over four days, from September 18th – 21st, we are staging a number of events to mark the centenary of the year The Great War broke out.
There have been remarks nationally that this is not a time for remembering (which we do around November 11th each year) and it is hardly right to “commemorate” something like 20 million deaths and 20 million casualties.
It is true that we cannot begin to do this over a period of a long weekend in Old Heathfield and Broad Oak: the next four or five years will give us ample opportunity to reflect on the horrors of war and the sacrifices made at Jutland , the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele, the Western Front, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Africa and beyond.
It is certainly not a celebration. But it is surely a time for acknowledgement of and reflection on the scale of the sacrifice, a time to understand the historic significance of this world-changing event, and a time to try to learn lessons of peace-making and peace-keeping – and pray that we may not have to learn those lessons in the way our forebears did 100 years ago.
Martin Luther-King observed in 1967 that we were a bewildered human race, adding: “We have neither peace within nor peace without.” Yet he was not someone without hope; he declared, “I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more.”
As we look around our world in this second decade of the 21st Century it is clear that we still have many lessons to learn about peace. The prophet Micah (who Luther-King was quoting in his address) wrote nearly 3000 years ago, “Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will never again be trained for war.” This was no pipe dream; this was an unshakeable confidence that despite the failings of humanity God would one day reign supreme and peace would come.
For Christians, ‘peace’ is not just about avoiding war or an absence of conflict. It is about building relationships – between people, between communities, between nations – which creates a love and care for others founded on justice for all.
That is not something we can do alone. We will always need God’s help – to change every one of us into people who have a passion for and a commitment to peace and justice, and a care and love for everyone. We need to understand what it means to follow the basic example and commandment of Jesus: to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.
Merciful God: You who breaks the bow and shatters the spear: we know what you require of us. You lead us to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with you. Give us discerning wisdom to choose the things that make for peace; the capacity to resist evil and support the common good; that we may never again stray from the ways of peace; neither shall we practice war anymore. Amen.