Preacher The Revd Sister Margaret Anne McAlister ASSP
Today on Remembrance Sunday here as in many other Commonwealth and other countries in the world we observe a day to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth and other military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and in all later conflicts. We especially remember with thanks those who made the greatest possible sacrifice by giving their lives in war. The millions who were killed live on in our memories as we commemorate them, and we are mindful of the debt we owe them for the freedoms we enjoy in our country today. This year we have particularly been commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Basil Umney died in the Battle on 23rd July 1916. The parents of Lieutenant Umney dedicated some stained glass windows to his memory here at St Matthias church in our side chapel. In the window depicting St George, the head of the saint is designed from a photograph taken of Lieutenant Umney.
Remembrance Sunday is always held on the Sunday nearest to 11th November, Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of hostilities in the first World War at 11am in 1918. 11th November is also St Martin’s Day – the solder turned saint, who while on duty on a bitterly cold night took his sword and, after cutting his soldier’s cloak in two, gave half of his cloak to a beggar on the roadside. Later that night Martin dreamed that he had given half of his soldier’s cloak to Christ.
This morning across the UK Remembrance Sunday is being marked by ceremonies at local war memorials in most cities, towns and villages, attended by civic dignitaries, ex – service men and women, members of local armed forces regular and reserve units, military cadet forces and youth organisations. Wreaths of remembrance poppies will this morning be laid at the memorials and the two minutes’ silence held at 11am. The Queen will attend the national ceremony at the Cenotaph on Whitehall, where she will lay the first wreath. Church bells will be rung, usually half-muffled. This year at St Matthias we shall observe our Act of Remembrance, including the two minutes’ silence, after the Intercessions and before the Peace.
War is always a terrible event, and it is always tragic when negotiations for peace break down and war erupts in their place between nations. The First World War poet Wilfred Owen wrote eloquently of the horrors of war. Tragically, he was killed in the very last week of the war. So many families up and down our land will have memories and stories of their relatives and loved ones who were killed in war. A few years ago, when I was an Associate Chaplain in the residential care home on my Community’s site in Oxford, I had the privilege of accompanying a retired bishop in his death and dying. He had been a soldier before he was called to serve in the Church. In the conflicts of the Middle East he once had a very narrow escape when he left the King David Hotel where he had been staying in Jerusalem just half an hour before it was blown up in July 1946. The hotel had been the Headquarters of the British armed forces in Palestine and Transjordan.
I, and those younger than myself in this country, belong to generations that are privileged never to have known armed conflict on their own soil. Yet wars still rage on our planet, and we think especially of the people of Syria. And then there is the horror of terrorism. Outrageous acts of terrorism occur all too frequently in the cities of our world. Sometimes these appalling acts are carried out by people who are often described as “lone wolf madmen”. But many such acts are committed by organisations such as ISIS, with the intention of bringing horror and devastation to civilised society.
It can be hard to reconcile the brutal reality of war and evil and suffering with belief in a God of Love. But God in Christ is not silent on the subject of war. In our gospel reading today from Luke Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem in the year AD 70. He says,
“not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
And then Jesus gives some advice about war:
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately”.
In this apocalyptic narrative Jesus continues:
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”.
Jesus then speaks of how such disastrous times will be an opportunity for the disciples to testify to their faith. He commends endurance.
Our world today exists in very troubled times. The world-wide political scene is seriously unsettled. At such times it is so important that we nurture our Christian hope. Hope is a fundamental theological virtue for the Christian believer. No matter how hard or threatening things become, it is imperative that we continue to live in hope. The centre of the Christian message is a story of hope. God in Christ was crucified – but God raised Jesus from the dead. What was true for Jesus, can be true also for us.
I would like here to give some personal reflections. For the last year I have had the privilege of serving as a priest and a religious here in the Richmond Team Ministry, across the team of the three churches of St Mary Magdalene’s, St John the Divine and St Matthias. It has been a privilege and a real pleasure to serve in such a great team. I have been blessed with delightful colleagues, and also with getting to know wonderful people in all of our three churches. And of course all this happened in the context of a double vacancy, first at St Mary Magdalene’s and latterly here at Sr Matthias. Tomorrow, with Anne Crawford’s licensing as the new team vicar here at St Matthias, the clergy team will once again have its full complement of clergy. And so the Bishop of Southwark would like me no longer to be specifically attached to the Richmond Team, but rather that I serve in local parishes, especially those currently experiencing vacancies. I shall still be part of the worshipping community in Richmond, but no longer formally part of the team. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the many ways in which you have been so welcoming and supportive of me. It has been a great privilege to work with you in serving God and one another in this place. And it is my prayer and hope that the churches in Richmond will go from strength to strength as together the Kingdom of God is proclaimed here. God’s inclusive and all-embracing love as revealed to us in Jesus Christ is what we are all about. May God continue to bless you all as you seek to further the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ through love of God and neighbour, and as you live out that love here in Richmond and beyond in our very needy and troubled world.