From St David’s Cathedral
The Dean’s Armistice Day sermon
At 11am on 11 November 1918 the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years continuous warfare.
It is not surprising that we remember that moment with silence. After the continual noise of bloodshed and devastation, agony and violence, there was now silence. And in the silence, we now remember. But after the silence there was celebration, that peace had finally come. Those who knew the cost of war could truly celebrate peace.
Today we need to remember.
As we gather in this place we should remember. We have so many memorials. As you enter the building there is the honour board of those from this Cathedral who served in the so-called Great War. We have windows given in memory of those who died in France. Our lectern and brass sanctuary rails, and this flag carried by Mrs Roberts before every troop movement to and from Angelsea barracks.
Their service and sacrifice should not be forgotten.
When sorting through some of my parents’ items, this box was found. [Photo p. 2] Inside it is this medal that was given to my grandfather L.3/ 2924 H.C. Humphrey Leading Seaman RNVR. Hawke Battalion Royal Navy Division.
My grandfather was in the Royal Navy Reserve when the Great War started. After 6 weeks’ basic training he was sent to Belgium in October 1914. Unfortunately, the train driver of the troop carrier was a German sympathiser and took the train straight across the front line and the entire train was captured. My grandfather then spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Holland in 1917.
With the medal was a card from Princess Mary for a Happy Christmas and victorious New Year. Victory as it was, was almost four years and countless lives away.
Recalling the cost should push us to seek to avoid war and violence. In this world where injustice and evil seem to flourish, there will be times when war is justified but remembering the cost will encourage us to see it only as the last resort.
One of my favourite programs is Blackadder goes Forth, which is based in WWI in 1917. In the final episode, Blackadder’s sidekick, Baldrick, asks why they are having a war. Captain Blackadder replies, ‘It was just too much effort to not have a war.’
Sadly, that has all too often been the case in history. We need Remembrance Day.
Our reading from Romans today calls us to work hard to achieve peace, to bless those who persecute, to not repay evil for evil, to, as far as it is possible, live at peace with all, not take vengeance, and overcome evil with God.
We need to be people who exemplify and work for peace. It will be challenging but it is what we are called to do.
[The Dean here noted that today’s hymns were different words set to familiar tunes.]
We can change the tune of our time, but actually we need to change the words. The words that are used in our society need to change. Change the words that are full of anger, division, hatred – because after the words come the actions. We need to be speaking words of acceptance, of love, of embrace, of welcome, of peace and of grace. It’s not the tune that needs to change, it’s the words.
Peace was what Jesus was working for, it is his gift to his followers in John 14 and 16. He promises them the Holy Spirit who will remind them of all he had taught them. So once Jesus was raised from the dead and the Spirit was sent they would have remembered the Good Shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep. They would have remembered that he was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The Spirit would remind them of forgiveness and a future. It is no surprise then, that Jesus speaks of leaving them peace.
But there is a wider concept going on.
The Jewish concept of peace, shalom, is far wider than simply the absence of strife or war. It is a state of wellness, or wholeness, everything being in its right place. God’s purposes are to establish such peace, shalom, in and for his creation. This is the great plot-line of the Bible and ultimately of history.
God is dealing with the darkness of our world in his Son. The resurrection shows that Jesus has triumphed and demonstrates a now new creation – shalom.
It is no accident then, that after his resurrection Jesus says to his disciples ‘Peace be with you’, and they speak of receiving the Spirit. The Creator God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit not only bring peace to us but will ultimately bring it to this world.
That is the kind of peace that Jesus gives, a fully rounded, eternal peace based on what he has done, and what will happen when we die and of God’s purposes for the whole created universe.
What kind of peace does the world give?
Peace in worldly terms is brought about by power, force, victory, and to some extent is imposed. Jesus’ peace is not something that is imposed; it is given as a gift to those who will follow him. It is achieved by triumph, but it is the triumph of humble service, there is power, but it is the recreative power of love. This is the path of true peace, of shalom.
The world also offers peace in the form of material possessions. But ... possessions cannot give us peace. Riches ultimately undermine peace and can never last.
Perhaps the most common worldly way of seeking peace is simply to ignore or avoid those things which threaten our peace. We escape reality by watching unreality TV or using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to bring peace.
The problem with all worldly promises of peace is that they are dependent on circumstances over which we have no control. Worldly peace is therefore always under threat.
The peace that Jesus gives is never under threat. It is based on what Jesus has already done in his life, death and resurrection. Our sins are dealt with, we have peace with God now, we will be with Jesus forever, these things are sure, they are not dependent on circumstances or what is going on in life. The world wishes for peace, Jesus gives it. The world promises peace, Jesus delivers it.
In this service of Christian worship this is the peace that firstly we celebrate, as we take the bread and wine, we remember the one who is our peace. In celebrating that peace, we commit ourselves to live out that peace and be channels of peace into the world.
If we are not working for peace in our lives, our family, our communities and our nation we are not only forgetting the sacrifice of so many and the cost of war, we are forgetting Jesus who comes in peace.
The full text and audio of Dean Richard Humphrey's sermon may be found on the St David's Cathedral website.