The two minutes silence is a very moving part of our Remembrance service every year.
I think I remember the first time I was at a church service on remembrance Sunday, I had been told that there would be a two minute silence and that I was not to speak under any circumstances. I must have been about four or five and I can remember that I was so intent on being silent that I was focussed fixedly on a little pink and white handbag I had. I can still picture it.
Thinking back to that service fifty odd years ago I was struck by how different things were then from now although many of the acts, like the two minutes silence, were the same.
I was standing between my parents; my father had served as a soldier all through the Second World War in Europe and the Middle East. He had not suffered any major injuries himself but he had experienced the injury and death of comrades. My mother had lived through bombing in Glasgow and had stories of evenings spent in the air raid shelter. Her brother was in the navy and was one of only a few survivors when his ship was hit by a torpedo.
In that church in the late nineteen fifties or early sixties every adult would have been affected in some way by the relatively recent world war. Some like my father would have served most would have had friends or relatives who were killed or maimed in that dreadful conflict.
Today things are very different, some of us may know people who are involved in Afghanistan or people killed in recent wars. I know that one ex Arran high School pupil from Brodick whom I taught has served in Afghanistan, but for most of us here war is something we see on our television screens, it is something we experience at a distance.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a serious question as to whether Remembrance Sunday would or should survive. It was not uncommon to hear it argued that the whole machinery of the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph and the parade of veterans should be abandoned.
That argument is not heard very much today, two wars in the Gulf, the invasion of Iraq and the conflict which followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the campaign in Afghanistan which continues to this day, all of these have impressed upon our minds the suffering which accompanies armed combat, the sacrifice of those who give life and limb in our name, and the need for a public act of penitence, recollection and thanksgiving.
But if Remembrance Day is not personally significant to most of us here today, yet it is not something that we think should be stopped what is the purpose of Remembrance Day 2013?
Well, it is a day to share with those of every nation, former allies and foes alike, in meditation on the horror of war, a day to give thanks for selfless sacrifice and to remember with gratitude all those who served and those who are still serving, a day as I said earlier to say Thank You, a day to confess the failings of a sinful human race.
But it is also a day to pray for peace on earth and an end to war, a day to commit ourselves to working for peace wherever we are and in whatever ways we can. A day when our prayers echo the words of Sy Miller when he wrote the song ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.’
Nearly three thousand years ago the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote the words that we read earlier words that are often read at Remembrance services.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Micah predicts terrible times of war for the people of Israel. But then he goes on with his amazing vision of a day when peace will replace warfare and swords will be made into ploughs. That vision is a vision that we can still share I’m going to read part of a story from Christian Aid about people being lead to the place of peace.
Senhor Sousa Manuel Goao, was born in Mozambique. In 1981, aged 23, he was kidnapped at gunpoint by anti-government rebel troops and forced to march 150 miles to a training camp in the bush near the border with South Africa.
In order to survive, his unit would hunt wild animals, raid farms or attack civilians.
When the cease-fire was agreed in 1992, United Nations troops were meant to disarm both sides. They collected some weapons but most remained hidden. But in 2001 Senhor Goao handed over 5 guns – four AK47s and an automatic rifle. He gave them to a small church-based charity supported by Christian Aid called the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM).
In return he received a sewing machine – he had two already which were given to him in exchange for guns he had previously handed in. CCM is a small organization working with a couple of old trucks that keep breaking down – but the organisation has collected and destroyed more than 100,000 guns, grenades and rocket launchers. Those who give up their weapons are given tools – ploughs, bicycles and sewing machines. In a land where many struggle to make enough money to eat, a simple plough can be the difference between life and death.
The weapons are cut up in CCM’s compound in Maputo and the pieces are handed over to a group of Mozambican artists who turn them into sculptures. They even make chairs and coffee tables out of cut-up Kalashnikovs. The idea is to transform the instruments of death and destruction into instruments of peace and of production and cooperation with others.”
Of course Micah’s vision is not yet fully realized, not everyone can sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree and not be afraid, but we must do what we can to make it so. As Christians we are called to make peace.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and it has a much deeper meaning than absence of conflict, it means completeness, wholeness, well-being and harmony in relations, personal or international it is a blessing from God. Peace is the well-being and prosperity of life that comes from reconciled and harmonious relationships with God, others and the whole of creation. Peace is not something passively waited for; it is something actively worked for.
In the words of Mahatma Ghandi,
“Peace is not something that you wish for. It is something that you make, something that you do, something that you are, something that you give away.”
Jesus himself is a peacemaker his life death and resurrection were all about bringing peace. At his birth he was called the prince of peace, and in the beatitudes Jesus makes it quite clear that his followers are also to work at being peacemakers.
One commentator writes ‘peacemakers are those who strive to prevent contention, strife, and war; those who use their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent lawsuits and hostilities in families and neighbourhoods’. Everyone may do something of this, and all those who endeavour to promote peace are like God, and are worthy to be called his children.’
Peace comes from God but peace costs, God paid the price of peace when he sent Jesus to die because he loves us. Jesus paid with his death; today we are remembering men and women who sacrificed themselves for our peace. So as we offer ourselves to God as peacemakers we need to be aware that we may have to change. Micah talked about changing, changing swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. So we may have to change we may have to give up our expectations and resentments, our anxieties and sometimes the precious plans that we believe will make us happy. But if we truly want to be peacemakers then we must be prepared to change prepared to be motivated by love to make sacrifices.
So as we leave church today pondering on the sacrifice of God for us, pondering on the sacrifice of those who fought and those who are still fighting I need to ask myself , you need to ask yourselves, are we willing to change, are we willing to become peacemakers?
In our families are there tensions, people we don’t speak to, long held grudges stoked by years of righteous indignation? Maybe it’s time to heal those breaches. What about divisions in our church family, disagreements and resentments, maybe it’s time to remember that Jesus told us to love one another, time to live that commandment. In our workplaces, in our dealings with our neighbours, are there changes we need to make? Remember what Sy Millar said? ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’ well maybe now is the time to give that a try.
Let us pray
Dear God as we remember and honour the sacrifice of those who laid down their lives so that we could live in peace show us the challenges, changes and sacrifices that we need to make so that we too can be called your peacemakers.
Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us,
Self on the cross and Christ upon the throne.
Past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.
The Praise is 159 Lord for the Years.
After the benediction please remain standing to sing the first verse of the National Anthem.