Putting back the clocks heralds the drawing in of the
evenings, the end of Autumn’s glorious colours and the imminent approach of
colder weather and Winter. Every year the season pass, many things change, but
As I write, the news has contained significant coverage of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where 11 worshippers were killed. The anti-Semitic hatred expressed by the suspect, Robert Bowers, and the translation into murderous action seems hard to fathom. And yet...
Just such divisive views were at the heart of causes of the conflict which became the Second World War with its genocides of populations all but hidden until near its end. And the divisions in Europe and unrest among its populations were sown a generation earlier in what we now call the First World War.
As we approach the Centenary of the Armistice which brought the War to an end at 11 O’clock on 11th November 1918, which this year, falls poignantly on Remembrance Sunday, we do well to recall August 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War.
The assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, on 28th June 1914 in Sarajevo triggered an explosion of international alliances formed over the previous decades, drawing in Russia as an ally of Serbia and Great Britain which had guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality by as far back as 1839. The start of the War was NOT planned, so much as happened and then declared... It was a classic breakdown in international relationships fuelled by a dangerous mix of mutual fear and bravado.
We do well to pause and reflect that the First World War - like all such feuds - was a mix of international politics and individual stories; of idealistic and jingoistic recruiting and the appalling experience of deafening, choking, stinking and filth, the bravery and the terror, the comradeship and the insolation of the Western - and less often remembered Eastern Fronts... It was a German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke who sagely noted, “No battle plan, survives contact with the enemy.” Four years later on 4 August 1918 King George V called a National Day of Prayer. One hundred days later the war ended.
Being part of a generation for whom in the sabre-rattling days of the 1980's Remembrance lost some of its meaning, I must say that the past few years the necessity rightly to recall and remember duty done and sacrifice made, seems more significant amidst the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The need to seek genuine justice with reconciliation which can lead to the transformation which brings peace appears more urgent. If this talk of international conflict seems remote, at a personal level, it is all too easy for ill-judged words and actions to simmer or flare into bitter disputes that carry pain and division far beyond their natural life span. Resources written to help us all engage in a similar exercise to that launched by George V can be downloaded from thefrom Hope Together Trust.
The two minutes silence on Remembrance Sunday will hang in the air as a reminder that flawed humanity and each one of us needs a rescue plan and as a Christian I would humbly suggest that in Jesus we see another way to live; not just an example of well-lived, some would say perfect humanity, but the willingness to pursue duty to the end and offer self-giving sacrifice for the sake of others. Jesus put it this way, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. And you are my friends if you do what I command... This is my command: love each other." (John 15:13-17).
May we have the courage, dare I say the sheer guts to value other people highly enough to make the first moves, embark on new starts, to work for one another's good, and so become builders of community, instruments of justice and, yes, of peace...