‘Gwyn eu byd y tangnefeddwyr: canys hwy a elwir yn blant i Dduw’ Mt 5:9
Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, when I was at school, I saw something every day which has had a profound effect upon me. Daily I would pass by bronze tablets with the names of the old boys who had died, in the service of their country, from the First World War onwards. I didn’t know them, boys my own age, or a little older, but simply being surrounded by their names made me both aware and grateful of who they were and what they did.
For the Great War there were 1,157 names: more than one-fifth of those who left the school died in war. They were not unusual in this, but the scale of loss is hard to imagine nowadays. Girls at school were told afterwards that they would never marry, or have children, as there weren’t enough men. Up and down the country, every city, town, and village, every family was and still is touched by grief and loss.
Today we remember the fact that exactly one hundred years ago on this day the guns fell silent, and the ‘War to end all wars’ finished, having cost the lives of somewhere up to nineteen million men, women, and children. Some sixty-million people were to die in World War II, and there has hardly been a day in the last hundred years where someone somewhere has not died in war. Faced with such staggering statistics it is hard to know what to say. Such a tremendous cost of human life, love, loss and grief should shock us to the core. The freedom, peace and prosperity which we now enjoy was won at the cost of the lives of countless men and women. It is right and good to pause and remember them.
When we recall the sacrifice made by people from this village, this country and all over the world, our remembrance must be an active one which has an effect in our lives. We recall the generosity of those who have tried to ensure that we can live lives free from warfare and suffering, a generosity which must leave a mark on our lives, and help us to learn from the mistakes of the past and try not to repeat them in the future.
No-one has not been touched by the events of the past one hundred years. Many people, members of our own families, gladly offered, and still continue to offer themselves for the safety and security of humanity. An act of remembrance has a deeper significance when we know that members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are on active service overseas, working for peace and stability, for a safer, fairer, world, where people can live in peace and plenty. We remember too all the victims of warfare, the countless millions who have lost their lives in a century characterised by conflict. Our reaction will, I suspect, of necessity, be a complex one: a mixture of sadness and thankfulness, gratitude and grief. While we are grateful to live in comparative peace after a period of wholesale slaughter, we cannot fail to be moved by the cost of military and civilian lives, which continues to this day.
Peace then is not simply the absence of war, but the right ordering of the world around us: living the way God wants us to live, in harmony, and love, one with another. That is why peacemakers are children of God. What they do is possible because of what Jesus Christ has done for us: ‘Ac, wedi iddo wneuthur heddwch trwy waed ei groes ef, trwyddo ef gymodi pob peth ag ef ei hun; trwyddo ef, meddaf, pa un bynnag ai pethau ar y ddaear, ai pethau yn y nefoedd’ ‘and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Colossians 1:20). Without Christ’s sacrifice none of what we are commemorating makes sense. Christ bought us peace by the shedding of His own blood. In the face of anger and aggression His only response was love. Christ is our peace, and Christians are called to follow Him. We do so knowing that the Cross is not a place of shame and defeat, but rather victory. The love of God has triumphed, and all will be well.
Does God want us to fight? No! War may be just, and undertaken for the right reasons, but we are supposed to live in peace. Human nature longs for wealth and power and is willing to stop at nothing to acquire it. Christ, however, shows us another way — the way of love and gentleness, which longs to heal and reconcile. It’s what Christ did here on earth, and continues to do — to draw people into the peace of the Kingdom of God, where wounds are healed and divisions reconciled. We are thankful for those who sacrificed themselves for us, and we honour their memory by treasuring peace won at so great a cost. We are serious about it, because it is the will of God, and the means of human flourishing. It is precious, and it is for everyone. We are thankful that we are alive and able to give thanks for those who gave their lives for us, and we commit ourselves to being peacemakers in our own lives, in our community, in our world. What greater tribute could there be than to work for a world where all may live in peace, for such is the Kingdom of God. In so doing we honour their memory and share the treasure they have given us with humanity — we are generous, after the example of Generous God, who loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for us.
The Kingdom is a radical place which seeks to transform humanity into the image of God. We have been trying to bring it about for two thousand years and we will continue, in church or chapel, and in our daily lives, to make God’s Kingdom a reality here and now, through what Christ has done for us, and the sacrifice of our forebears. We will remember them.