Remembrance Sunday- 8th November 2020

Thessalonians 4 v 13- end
Matthew 25 v1-13

Revd. Tom Mumford

May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

So, here we are again.
Back in lockdown, back on Zoom, and dare I say it, back in the wilderness. It’s just this time, there’s no glorious sunshine, no summer to look forward to. And this time, all the DIY has been done, and the garden’s had so much attention, it looks like an exhibit at the Chelsea flower show…only now with less leaves, and probably a bit more brown… It is very likely that this next month, or longer, will feel like a return to the wilderness. And that’s ok.

But if that is where we are, if we are feeling as if this is a desert moment - and it is for many– then do not forget that it is in the wilderness that God is more than often found. The people of Israel knew it. Jesus knew it. It is in the wilderness that more often we have the space, and the quiet, to hear the voice of God, to spot his inspirations of grace in our lives more clearly. And I don’t necessarily mean literal quiet – many still have work, many still have children and family commitments – but I mean the sort of quiet that comes from stripping back parts of our lives. The sort of quiet that comes when we are forced to live, to be, more simply. So if you can, take this as gift. Spend more time in prayer. Spend more time on the lookout for God. Because of course, the night is darkest before the dawn. The time in the wilderness precedes the time of God’s adventure. For the people of Israel it was the time before their arrival in the promised land. For Jesus it was the time before his ministry, which is the reason why we’re all here. So do not lose hope. God has the last word, and it’s not this.

But let’s not dwell too much on lockdown. You’re probably all fed up of hearing about it, every time you listen to the radio or the tele. Let us turn now to Remembrance Sunday. Because by God, there are somethings that must go on, that cannot be forgotten, and this is one of them. Though, I suppose, it would be easy to forget. Perhaps, even, more comfortable. To remember, to recall war, is painful. After all, why would you want to remember atrocities, battles, violence, genocide, death. These are not nice things, not happy thoughts to dwell on. Forgetting…yes, forgetting, would be easier….And yet, we come together at this time of year to remember, to celebrate the lives of those who gave their own for ours. And we do so, not out of sentimentality, or a naïve nationalism (despite the efforts of some). We do it not to prove that we’re the best, or the ‘winners’, but because the best way to honour and celebrate these heroes is to grow wise, wise in order that we NEVER let it happen again. And to do this, we must remember them.

Normally at St Gregory’s we would do this in a big service this afternoon. The church would be full, we’d have all the who’s who of Sudbury there, alongside many retired and active servicemen. It makes us proud, as a church, to be alongside them, to take this role in our town’s civic life. Because we have so much gratitude, so much thanks, for those who valiantly served, and still serve, our country to keep us safe and free.
But of course, we must do more than just thank, or even celebrate them. We must remember, we must learn, to be people of love not war. Peace not violence. Forgiveness not revenge. And I mean this not just on the battlefield, but in our families, our homes, our classrooms, our workplaces, our social media accounts. This isn’t just big picture stuff. This begins with us, with you.

To demonstrate what this might look like, I’d like to tell you a story. It’s not one of mine, but belongs to a good friend who I’m sure wouldn’t mind me telling it. My friend was brought up by his grandparents. His grandfather, now passed away, was something of a hero to him. My friend knew that his grandfather had flown in the Royal Air Force, but his grandfather had never spoken about his experiences. Except for one day, when pushed, he mentioned the word ‘Dresden,’ and wept. This wasn’t a man who often showed his emotions in this way. So my friend didn’t understand, but he knew to leave it alone. After his grandfather had passed away, my friend found his log book. He knew now. Some years later, now a priest, my friend was invited to preach at the since reconstructed Frauenkirche in Dresden, that was bombed heavily during the war. His grandfather, unsurprisingly, was very much on his mind. On his way to the train station in a taxi, before travelling home, driver asked my friend why he was in Dresden, and my friend commented how he’d always want to come. ‘Why?’ the taxi driver asked.  After a deep breath my friend explained: ‘because my grandfather was the navigator of a Lancaster bomber, and on the 14thof February 1945 I know he flew here as part of the bombing raid, and he could never talk about it.’ The man was quiet and then said: ‘…Ah, that was the night my mother was killed.’ He pulled over and turned the engine off. He then turned around, put out his arm and said: ‘And now, we shake hands’
This man remembered. He had learnt. He had lived the loss of his mother, learned about the thousands dead. But he knew more, he had become wise. He became a place where the violence stopped, and love began. Blessed are those who do the same.