Minister’s Letter November/December 2018

Dear Friends,

November is the season of Remembrance and this year at our service on 11 November, we remember the Armistice that took place exactly 100 years ago, marking the end of WWI. For many who lost loved ones, the end of the conflict would have been bittersweet. Countless young lives lost on both sides, never to return home to families or sweethearts left behind. The names of the bloodiest battles are not mere footnotes of history, their horrors have been well documented and the neatly arranged white grave stones tell the story of enormous loss. The Somme, Verdun, Gallipoli and Passchendaele saw carnage on a scale that the world had never seen. The area around Passchendaele was so churned up with shell holes that many men drowned in the mud and the mire.

There are many ironies of WW1: the Christmas truce that broke out along parts of the Western front in 1914, a single moment in those 4 years when the fighting stopped. For a few days, enemies recognised their common humanity, singing Christmas carols, exchanging rations and playing football before taking up arms against one another again. What do we make of those events?

During this time, there was a huge development in technology, motivated by a desire to gain the upper hand against the enemy. Poisonous gas, tanks, flamethrowers and aircraft were new tools of modern warfare; the advancement of science for negative rather than progressive purposes.

There is the irony of propaganda versus truth. What was told to the young men who signed up for battalions? What did they think they were going to face? Was it sold to them as a great adventure? War poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon paint enduring eyewitness pictures of a gruesome war as it really was.

We remember those who paid the ultimate price in WWI and other conflicts. It is sobering to think that this Great War was the “war to end all wars” yet so many wars and conflicts have followed since then. Alongside our capacity to make war, we also have ability to end conflict and make peace with our enemies. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time for war and a time for peace” (3:8b). When I visited the town of Ypres for the first time in 2004, I was inspired at the ability of the residents to reconstruct the buildings to their former grandeur. Human beings have the capacity to move on and move forward, once conflict ends. It is this capacity to build a new future out of the destruction of war that gives us hope for the time ahead. We have the enduring capacity to imagine a new future, even when there are war-torn ruins around us.

In memorials all over the world, we see lasting reminders to those who paid the ultimate price to win the freedom of others. The 54 000 names on the Menin Gate, the war graves, the local memorials in towns and villages all record the names of individuals who are still remembered even 100 years since the guns silenced. As Christians, we know something about memorials, as we regularly share in the memorial feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. He too paid the ultimate price, so that we might be freed from the curse of sin and know the hope of eternal life. As we remember the fallen, we recall his words “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Your Minister and Friend,