I always found Remembrance Sunday a somewhat unusual day where we invariably try to blend our regular morning services with a civic act of memorial. At this time, as a community, we pause and remember but often fail to learn. Acts of Remembrance can uncover deep-rooted and strong emotions when thinking of the horrors and costs of war. I have frequently been stuck by the sombreness of such occasions and how laying a simple wreath can reduce even the fiercest-looking soldier to tears. Regrettably, we seem to learn little as yet another conflict is remembered this year through the cost of human life.
Remembrance Day is a time to recognise and recall the sacrifice paid by many, but it is not a day to glorify war. Neither is it a day of politics or opinions, but rather a time to honour those who have fallen, including a horrendous number of civilian lives.
Over the years, I have tried to find ways in which we, as Christians, can do and say more to promote peace rather than simply nod sadly at the cost of yet another war. I believe an essential part of Remembrance Sunday is learning from the lessons of war and making sure mistakes are not repeated. Perhaps by renaming ‘Remembrance Sunday’ as ‘Reconciliation Sunday’, we would instead concentrate on being peacemakers and reconcilers, learning from the mistakes and loss of life from the past, and being inspired to look for new, peaceful solutions.
Stuart Murray-Williams, writing in 2021 for the Anabaptist Mennonite Network, asks the pertinent question, “If going to war is a last resort, were there other less costly and more hopeful ways of proceeding that were either not considered or were not pursued sufficiently? How might these inform future situations?”
It’s a good question and one which, as Christians, we should reflect on and then seek to model ourselves and challenge those in authority to consider. I recall an interview with Stephen Fry several years ago, where he commented on the cost of military action in Afghanistan and suggesting that if we had injected the same monetary cost of war as aid instead, the outcome might have been quite different. How just like God to use a self-professing atheist to challenge our thinking!
In the Beatitudes, Jesus encourages his followers by saying, ‘God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.’ Working for peace is just that, a full-time job; it is challenging and requires intentionality more than nebulous hope. Gandhi once said, “Peace is not something that you wish for. It is something that you make, something that you do, something that you are, something that you give away.” I believe working for peace is one of the key tasks of every Christian today.
I came across these beautiful words from Hamilton Mennonite Church which they used on Peace Sunday.
To remember is to build relationships across barriers. To remember is to take steps of reconciliation. To remember is to practice harm reduction in our communities. To remember is to question systems of oppression. To remember is to lift up the vulnerable. To remember is to learn and practice alternatives to violence. To remember is to imagine new possibilities into being.
It is through our remembering or reconciling that the future can be changed. Churches of differing denominations and practices often unite on Remembrance Sunday; I can think of no better example than if we stayed together for the other 51 Sundays of the year! Our buildings, which are so often a sign of schismatic ecclesiology and broken relations in our communities, could instead be the very symbols of reconciliation and peace. We could be the first example of God’s kingdom that we are all calling people to and a sign to our national leaders that there is another way; a peaceful way.
I want to leave you with a prayer for intercession written by Ann Siddall. It is typically used between Lent and Easter in Year C, but I believe it to be pertinent for my newly named ‘Reconciliation Sunday.’
bless our efforts to bring about reconciliation.
Give us the strength to persevere without counting the hurts,
and to find within ourselves the capacity to keep on loving.
Give us the grace to be able to stand in the middle of situations,
and to be a conduit for the deep listening
which can lead to healing and forgiveness.
Help us to conduct ourselves with dignity,
giving and expecting respect, moving from prayer to action,
and from action back again into prayer.
Grant that we may be so grounded in your love,
that our security is not threatened if we change our minds,
or begin to see a better way to act.
Bless those who are called to reconcile on a large-scale;
politicians, world leaders, leaders of business,
and those who stand in the midst of bitter conflict.
Reconciling Christ, bless us and bless all who engage
in the sacred work of envisioning new wholeness,
and bringing people and nations together. Amen
CEO, Rural Ministries