11th November 2023

Our Acts of Remembrance at St Mary’s and St Swithun’s this year are overshadowed by the continuing war in Ukraine and the escalating conflict in Gaza, not to mention the fighting in the Yemen and Sudan. Many of those attending our services will have in mind these terrible events, and will be wondering whether the fervent hope of our forebears in 1918 that the First World War would be the “War to end all wars” was no more than a pipedream, and so, is there any purpose to Remembrance?

One of the sad facts is that the nature of war has changed. 200 years ago, battles were largely fought away from human habitation and the losses, terrible though they were, were sustained by soldiers and sailors and those directly involved. In the last 100 years, the development of accurate and long-range artillery, and precision weapons delivered by aircraft or drone have drastically changed the battlefield and now wars are increasingly fought in and around towns and cities, such that most of the victims are civilians including many women and children. What makes this more dramatic and awful is that pictures of this loss and devastation are broadcast round the world in minutes.

Christians believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but for many people in the First Century AD, Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jewish people expected and longed for. They wanted their Messiah to be someone who would lead them in battle and throw off Roman domination, but Jesus’s message was one of Love and Peace, and he was crucified on a Cross.

Our experience in the last 100 years suggests that wars will, sadly, continue to happen, but our prayer and desire should be that we humans start to understand the sheer waste and futility of war. On both sides of a conflict the young and innocent suffer; everyone loses and little is achieved. It may seem that as individuals there is little we can do to change the cycle of violence and needless death that bedevils the earth, but ultimately all conflict has its roots in the way we are with those around us. If we all work at our personal relationships, listening, learning, tolerating those with different views, seeking to heal and reconcile rather than divide, then perhaps more may be encouraged to live in peace and harmony.

That seems to me to be the purpose of this annual act of Remembrance, to remind us of the horror of war and the duty that we have to avoid division and to live together in love and friendship as God intends.

John Sweeting