Remembrance Reflection

11th November 0202

One of the sad news items at the time of the hasty evacuation of Kabul was parents and loved ones of the 457 British military fatalities asking the question, ‘What was it all for?’ The untimely way in which the Afghan people were abandoned to the Taliban seemed to raise existential questions about our involvement there: why? was it worth it? and sadly, was their sacrifice for nothing?
This weekend is Remembrance Sunday when we remember with thanksgiving and gratitude all those who gave their lives on our behalf in pursuit of peace. Of course, the death of anyone from whatever side in war and armed conflict is one death too many and should be the catalyst to strive for the ways of peace wherever and however we can.

This idea of our work and sacrifice being ‘unfinished business’ and possibly in vain is a theme taken up by a famous World War I Chaplain and poet, G A Studdert Kennedy. His nickname was ‘Woodbine Willie’, a name obtained by his habit of giving Woodbine cigarettes to any soldier he met as well as offering spiritual care to dying and injured soldiers. He was awarded a Military Cross for his years of valiant service in the Great War.

Writing the poem, It is not Finished, Studdert Kennedy asks the questions that soldiers, bereaved loved ones and indeed all of us ask from time to time – how to make sense of what we have done or not done. It is one of my favourite poems.

It is not finished, Lord.
There is not one thing done;
There is no battle of my life
That I have really won.

And now I come to tell Thee
How I fought to fail.
My human, all too human, tale
Of weakness and futility.
And yet there is a faith in me
That Thou wilt find in it
One word that thou canst take
And make
The centre of a sentence
In Thy book of poetry.

I cannot read the writing of the years,
My eyes are full of tears,
It gets all blurred and won’t make sense;
It’s full of contradictions
Like the scribblings of a child.

I can but hand it in, and hope
That Thy great mind, which reads
The writings of so many lives,
Wilt understand this scrawl
And what it strives to say – but leaves unsaid.
I cannot write it over, the stars are coming out,
My body needs its bed.
I have no strength for more,
So it must stand or fall – dear Lord,
That’s all.*

Doubtless we all have searching questions about war, loss and whether it was worth it – whether it achieved its outcome. As we journey through life itself we also ask the self-same questions. I suppose I am drawn to the finals words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘It is finished’ that we find in John 19 v 30. He is the one who takes our incompleteness, the odd word, the scribblings of our lives and weaves them within his great story (or poem) of God’s eternal love and purposes. As we stand this coming Sunday to remember and give thanks, may we be assured of God’s eternal love and presence with us and for us, completing and reconciling our unfinished lives into his perfect, finished one.
Revd Paul

*It is not finished, by GA Studdert Kenndy MC as quoted in Lesslie Newbigin’s autobiography ‘Unfinished Agenda’, p viii. SPCK (1985)