Two Minute Silence
Our service this week will begin with the customary Two Minute Silence, in honour and remembrance of those who have laid down their lives in war, that others might have peace.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Opening Words from Carnival of Lamps by Cliff Reed
As the true prophets of God have always told us,
the Divine will is for mercy and compassion,
love and justice.
May we, and all true worshippers of the one true God,
never suppose that vengeance and cruelty,
hatred and murder, serve the Divine purpose.
In the spirit of human solidarity and oneness,
we join in worship.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.05 am on Sunday morning) (words by Cliff Reed)
Our flame is lit.
As it burns and flickers
we remember lives
that danced and flickered like tongues of fire
until snuffed out by war’s cold fingers.
In our worship, we remember them.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
in this not quite yet post-Covid world,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Reading from 100 Years of Remembrance by the Royal British Legion
During the First World War almost every household was affected by the loss of a close family member or a friend in the community.
Out of this shared experience came many of the traditions of Remembrance we know today – war memorials honouring all regardless of rank, the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, Remembrance parades, Two Minute Silence, and the poppy.
In 2021 we mark 100 years of Remembrance…
Remembrance serves a number of important purposes:
As thanks – It is a chance for individuals, communities and the nation to honour those who serve and sacrifice to defend our way of life and who gave their today for our tomorrow.
To bring communities together – Communities across Britain irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity share a history of service and sacrifice from the two World Wars through to the present day. Remembrance is a time to reflect on what we have in common.
To understand who we are – To understand modern Britain is to understand that it was built upon the service and sacrifice of millions of men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth during the two World Wars and in the rebuilding of the nation after them.
To learn – As we remember the service and sacrifice of so many, who came from every walk of life and from every background, whether they served 100 years ago or today, the act of remembering reminds us that we must all continue to strive for a better and more peaceful future.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust.
Reading Children in the Garden of Remembrance from Beyond Darkness by Cliff Reed
A bright November morning:
poppies on wooden crosses,
crosses clutched by children,
children brought to remember, to remember
men they couldn’t possibly remember,
men who died a century ago in a war
so terrible I cannot forget it,
though I don’t remember it.
What do they think, those children,
what do they make of the bugles,
the poetry, the silence?
When I was a child, we too ‘remembered’
the dead of two world wars, the wars
our parents and grandparents had fought in,
lived through – or not. But we didn’t
‘remember’ the dead of Crimea,
the soldiers of a hundred years before.
How could we ‘remember’ them?
They’d been dead too long.
And yet children today are brought
to ‘remember’ the dead of a hundred years ago.
Haven’t they been dead too long?
What do those children think?
Who do they ‘remember’?
What will their children’s children
‘remember’ if they stand here
a hundred years from now?
Prayer For Remembrance Sunday by Chris Goacher
Spirit of Life and Love, known by many names and none.
We gather in thankful remembrance of those
who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others;
but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop
and the actions taken in our name.
Bless those who mourn, and those whose lives are blighted
by such terrible memories, be they military or civilian.
Bless those who carry the scars of war with them
for the rest of their lives, and those who care for them.
Bless those whose safety is currently compromised through war
and violence at this time, no matter where in the world.
May forgiveness be found, personally and nationally,
that all can learn to live in peace.
We acknowledge that death recognises not the colour of uniform,
nor the age or gender of victim.
That death and destruction come because of
our failure – our greed – our indifference.
Let us dedicate ourselves to the greatest remembrance of all –
that war should be no more.
For a future to be possible. May our prayers be heard. Amen
Reading Growing Side by Side by Lauri Bower
We are all bound together
on a life raft called Earth.
When fighting breaks out
in one corner of the raft
it affects us all
as the whole raft becomes
There is no use blaming,
there is no use asking who started it.
The seeds of war go back many generations.
The seeds of peace are also present
growing side by side
with seeds of anger, hate, resentment.
Like the poppies in Flanders fields
springing from the same root.
In the midst of fighting
are those who want peace
seek for understanding instead of accusation
offer love instead of fear and confusion.
When we know
when we all know
the fighting hurts ourselves
more than those we call
other, the enemy
then our bombs and weapons
can be laid down.
Hands will offer friendship
instead of pain and destruction.
Hearts will be open
instead of closed off, cold.
When we know
when we truly know
your pain is my pain
your happiness is my happiness
we can let go of the seeds of
fighting injustice, seeking revenge,
let them go back to sleep.
We can awaken seeds of peace
we can awaken seeds of love.
We can look up and see
we are all bound together
on a life raft called Earth.
We can only live if we live together.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Marta Flanagan)
God of all generations, in all the power, mystery and design of this world, draw us near, inspire us to see anew the life before us. Make us like the child who sees so clearly and touches so deeply. From the source of our being, we yearn for new vision, new eyes to see the world, new ears to hear the cries of sorrow and of joy. Uplift us to the glories beheld in ourselves and in those around us. And yes, open our hearts to the pain we guard within ourselves and to the pain known by the hungry in body and in spirit.
In this moment of life, sustain us in the silence of our own thoughts and prayers…
Peace be to this congregation. Amen.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address For Remembrance Sunday
I’d like to start this Remembrance Sunday address by repeating some of the words of the prayer by Unitarian minister, Chris Goacher, which I used during the service, “We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others, but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop and the actions taken in our name. … Let us dedicate ourselves to the greatest remembrance of all – that war should be no more.”
These few words really sum up what I want to say this morning: that we should be grateful to, and remember with respect, those who sacrificed their lives that we might have peace, but also in sad reflection on the indifferent use we have made of it. It is a desperate irony that World War One was called “The War to End All Wars”, and yet more than one hundred years on, humankind still seems unable to stop the fighting, the bloodshed, the cruelty, and wars continue to be fought the world over, for reasons of fear, and misunderstanding, the hunger for power, and the despising of the other.
Each year since 1920, the people of this country have paused for two brief minutes on 11th November, and latterly also on the Sunday nearest that date, to remember the fallen. And in 1921, the Royal British Legion started to sell poppies as a symbol of remembrance, as we saw in our first reading.
We held the two minutes’ silence today, over a hundred years after the First World War ended. It was grim – every community was affected – every community lost beloved brothers, sons, nephews, fathers. On the wall of our Meeting House in my home congregation of Northampton is a Roll of Honour of those who served and fell in the Great War, the “war to end all wars”. It includes 55 names. 55 men from that one congregation.
My home town of Northampton has two war memorials, one built by Lutyens in the grounds of All Saints Church, which was unveiled in 1920, but includes no names. The other is the Garden of Remembrance, in Abington Square, which was unveiled in 1937, and now also includes the names of all the dead from World War II as well. 2,864 names are inscribed from World War I, 702 from World War II.
In total, 956,703 soldiers and sailors from the UK died between 1914 and 1918, and over two and a quarter million were wounded. The global number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 38 million: there were over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.
The Unitarian Peace Fellowship was founded in the darkest days of World War One, and we commemorated its centenary at the General Assembly meetings in 2016. The Peace Fellowship’s President, Rev John Carter, introduced this service with these words: “Tonight we celebrate the Centenary of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship. We are a group of people dedicated to the witness for peace and for compassion for all living things. Our fellowship is comprised of women and men, from north and south, of various ages and identities, some of us are staunch pacifists, some of us struggle with absolutes, some of us proudly served in our nation’s forces, some of us proudly served as conscientious objectors in alternative services. All of us believe in peace-making, in all aspects of our daily life.”
The Peace Fellowship’s vision statement reads: ” The Unitarian Peace Fellowship was founded in 1916 in the darkest days of the First World War to witness for peace and against the futility of war. Today we maintain that witness. Our vision includes the ethos and values of the Charter for Compassion. The surest route to peace is through the compassion of human beings for each other and for all living things. We support and encourage Unitarians in their witness for Peace and Compassion locally, nationally, and internationally.”
In the hundred or so years since then, sadly, there has been conflict in the world almost constantly. While the countries of the West have been “at peace” since 1945, their governments and armed forces and arms traders have been involved in many wars around the world – Korea in the fifties, Viet Nam in the sixties, Northern Ireland for the decades of the Troubles, the Falklands in the early eighties, the Balkans in the nineties, and the so-called “War on Terror” since 2001, which has included two Iraq wars, the Arab Spring, and the terrible, ongoing conflict in Syria.
And this sad litany does not even include the multiple conflicts that have ground on in the developing world, which the Western media reports only sporadically. It seems that the lust for power and land has not decreased down the years, that ignorance and fear are yet flourishing, which lead to hatred and violence, both within communities, and between them.
Where, where on earth, is God in all this? There is a famous story from World War II of a group of Jews in a concentration camp, who put God on trial for failing to be there for them in their time of need. They concluded that He did not exist, or had abandoned them to the horrors which surrounded them. Then, at the end of the trial, one of their elders stood up, and reminded them all that it was time for the evening prayers.
Can you imagine the faith required to continue to believe in a God who seems to have abandoned your people to torture and death? How many prayers must have gone up in the dark days of the 1930s and the Second World War, which seemingly went unanswered? It is ironical, but perhaps not surprising, that when the state of Israel was created in 1948, it was as a *secular* Jewish state. The Jews had survived as a culture, as a people, but many of them had lost their faith.
I ask the question again: “Where is God in all this?” What kind of God permits the evils of war to continue in the world year after year, century after century? One thing I have struggled with over the years is the problem of evil – how can a loving God let such things happen? But having really tussled with this over the past couple of years, I have come to a stance that I am happy with. I believe that natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, are just that – natural (unless there is a man-made element, such as the dreadful landslide at Aberfan, more than fifty years ago). I don’t think that the God I believe in has the power to intervene in the affairs of the world.
So far as man-made evil is concerned, I think it is the result of human beings individually making the wrong choices, which cause them to do evil things, and separate themselves from God. Or, people standing by and doing nothing when evil is happening. Which I would call a sin of omission rather than commission.
I don’t know about you, but my first response when I hear about some human-made evil, my first response, is invariably anger and indignation. If there has been a terrorist attack somewhere, or someone has been torturing a helpless child or animal, or a female child has been forced to marry an elder man, or circumcised against her will, my first reaction is Anger. Always anger.
I guess it’s what we do with that anger that makes the difference. If we hunt down the perpetrator (or worse, somebody who *looks like* him or her) and punish them for the crime by using violence against them, there is Biblical sanction for it. In the Hebrew Bible, the Jews were taught “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. This may now sound barbaric to us, but actually, it was merciful – it was limiting the punishment to reciprocal violence, not “a life for an eye”, for example. If this punishment is sanctioned by the law of the land, we call it justice.
But in the Gospels, Jesus taught a rather different, and very much harder lesson. Jesus gives many examples of how he thinks people should act justly: turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, returning good for evil.
For me, if God is anything, He/She/It is a God of Love and Compassion and yes, of Justice. So God cannot be omnipotent, nor in the business of judging and condemning humankind. As Rabbi Harold Kushner comments in his wonderful book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, “We can be angry at what has happened to us, without feeling that we are angry at God. More than that, we can recognise our anger at life’s unfairness, our instinctive compassion at seeing people suffer, as coming from God, who teaches us to be angry at injustice and to feel compassion for the afflicted.”
The God I believe in is a source of strength and comfort, of love and compassion, not of pain and arbitrary justice, and punishment. As to how to overcome evil, I believe that God can only act through us – that divine spark that is in each one of us can nudge us into doing the right thing to alleviate or prevent suffering and make the world a better place. No one person will ever entirely succeed, but the attempt has to be made.
Maybe then, the children of the future whom Cliff Reed reflected on in our second reading will be able to remember a time of true peace.
Benediction by John Carter
Our time together is ended,
we have heard that ancient call to be a people united
in love, in peace, in joy,
to be a people of vision, seeing a world
where peace and justice rule
where all are welcomed and celebrated
where love governs.
We have heard this vision, and now we go forth to make it our reality. Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley