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Sermon: Remembrance Sunday at Charterhouse School

Sunday 8th November 2015
Charterhouse School
James 3: 17-18
John 14: 27

27 36 22 19 20 42 47 34

The ages of those held in remembrance on your Roll of Honour.

Some a little older than you; many not much younger than me.

Men known as Majors, Lieutenants and Captains.

Men known as sons,  husbands, brothers, friends and colleagues.

Men known as Eustace, Richard, Thomas, James and Ralph.

Of the three thousand five hundred Old Carthusians who served in the Great War, 670 died. 

They're commemorated here, along with the names of the 340 who lost their lives in World War II. It did not end there, for today we remember all those who've lost their lives in subsequent conflicts.

In recent years, the losses born by service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan affect our generation deeply: for parents, friends, chaplains and colleagues it feels as if every day is Remembrance Day.

We remember, knowing that the shadow of war extends beyond battlefields; it lingers long after the end of hostilities. It's  glimpsed it in physical or psychological wounds; in family trees cut short and in the story of this place, their absence is felt.

How do we make sense of all this? We recite the poetry of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen;  we read  Andy McNab's bestseller Bravo Two Zero or Simon Weston's  autobiographies tracing his life after the Falklands War; we follow the Vicar of Bagdad on Twitter and await official reports.

Even then, the cost, the pain, the courage, the fear: it feels incomprehensible. Our lives are shaped by those who grow not old; fragile poppies poignantly testifying to those who gave their 'today' for our 'tomorrow'.  Do we find a point of connection with our own grief, regrets and loss?

It was Simon, not me, who became the Head of our CCF RAF Section. We did drill exercises and flew chipmunks together; he was the better shot; my mark in principles of flight was higher. He wrote a cheeky comment in my School Leavers' book.

Twelve months later, he was dead. Killed not in war, but in a car accident.  The senselessness and heartrending grief that took hold was wholly new and wholly other. And faith and hope were crushed.  That silence a microcosm of grief. 

Today is honest about the sacrifice of service men and women, lives given and taken away; of the cost born by civilians in terror or fighting; of our own responses amidst all that disrupts life or bewilders us. What happens when we stop, in silence? Today, and at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month?

Today's remembrance is honest about the future. We commit ourselves to work for freedom, peace and justice among the nations. We don't do that in our own strength, but through trust  in God, who will draw all things to himself.  Even in the chaos we're assured of love; in turmoil we hope for peace

Such peace is promised by Jesus as he speaks words of farewell to his own disciples. He meets them in their fear and uncertainty. In advance of his own death and in anticipation of their grief, he gives them a bequest. His legacy of peace is more than a ceasefire or treaty balancing opposing forces, the kind of peace the world gives.  His peace is more than the absence of war; nor just an inner stillness. It is the promise to be with us and in us. He is our peace.

To embrace that, to place that hope centre stage is risky. It's transformative.

It is one that our world longs for; it is one that our culture tries to articulate.

Last night, I accidentally caught the end of Dr Who: the shapeshifting Zygons are everywhere; the ceasefire has broken down; no one knows who to trust; opposing forces face each other, locked into a cycle of violence.

The Doctor, Peter Capaldi at his best, urges them to break that cycle. He says 'the only way anyone can live in peace is if they're prepared to forgive'. He acknowledges the complexity of unfairness and injustice, the futility of cruelty; the turning wheel of winners and losers, of ideals and troublemakers.  It's not a game - it's a scale model of war. Broken hearts and shattered lives, bloodshed and pain. 

But the words that the Doctor speaks echo words that God speaks to us: 'here's the unforeseeable. I forgive you'.  He urges an end to war because he doesn't want anyone else hear the screams or feel the pain that he does.  God in Christ both bears the pain we remember today and forgives our fragile humanity; in him, he reconciles the world to himself. For God so loved the world, he sent his Son to be with us from the moment of speechless infancy to intimacy of friendship's embrace; from the deepest agonies of suffering to the defeat of death itself. That is our hope.

We remember, because we have a duty to the future as well as to the past. What will happen on our watch? Dare we break the cycle? In the Dignity of Difference Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes 'I honour the past not by repeating it but by learning from it - by refusing to add pain to pain, grief to grief'.

That demands a wisdom from above: peaceable, gentle, merciful, willing to yield. A wisdom that answers bitterness with generosity, hatred with love, injustice with compassion, anger with forgiveness, conflict with reconciliation, violence with peace.

God's wise and peaceable Spirit work in us, in you and me: in each conversation, gesture and act of service.  May we be living sacrifices of love courage  hope and compassion for sake of God's Kingdom.

When the world is in turmoil, peace making and peace keeping are complex and costly things.

On our watch, we need men and women who are wise and peaceable to seek the greater good and restore hope: in soft power, in political influence, in military strategy. 

Jesus said: I give you my peace.

On our watch, may there be a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.