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Passion and Passchendaele

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2018

You only have to read the words of the war poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen to know that there is no real glory in warfare. While Remembrance Sunday is a day in which we remember all those who have fallen in battle, we think particularly of those who died in the trenches; those who died in the mud; those who were gassed; those mutilated by shrapnel; those who, when they were supposed to be displaying a “stiff upper lip”, died screaming or weeping in agony and fear.

And we hear the words of the Lord: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And we hear the great military leaders use these words to justify the Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres and Flanders Field.
Is it any wonder that, in 1918, there is a massive loss of faith?


We know that it is a bad argument to say that God can’t exist because humans are so terrible to one another, especially Christians and yet it is very convincing.
In the mud, blood and tears in the trenches, where is God?

Of course, with the guns firing loudly, we cannot hear the still small voice of love; we cannot understand the words of Christ when they are being twisted with the rhetoric of those who want to instil a sense of purpose in soldiers for the furtherance of a particular cause; we cannot see God through pained eyes filled with tears at the final suffering of a simple farmer’s boy called up to serve his country.

If anything should appal us, it is the sheer terror of being free to choose and that the consequences of our choices lead to Flanders Field and even not forty years later to the disgusting brutality of Auschwitz. The realisation really is that human beings, in exercising our freedom to choose, find ourselves looking upon Hell itself with our toes on the very edge.


We should not need armed forces. They should not be necessary for we should love our neighbour as ourselves. But they are necessary and we must thank God for all the military personnel who are willing to fight and die for the good of others. They are doing nothing wrong but rather seeking to protect that which is good. However, all humanity must accept the blame for the necessity of armed forces, for we are fallen and broken.

It is humanity itself that lies mortally wounded in Flanders Field, wounded by the Evil that Man invited freely into God’s Creation. If we look only at fallen humanity, then we will not see God unless…

Unless, we look to the Cross. Upon the Cross is a human being who suffers innocently from the Evil inflicted upon Him by others and yet Who has not allowed Evil to spread through His actions, but rather bears all that Evil on Him upon that Cross. No, there is no respite from the pain and degradation. No, He doesn’t even have the opportunity to die in a hospital with someone who might care for Him. He dies alone and vilified upon the Cross even as the farmer’s boy dies alone in No Man’s Land.

Where is God in the trenches?

He is in agony upon the Cross. For it is here that Evil is destroyed. The Cross shouts louder than the guns. The Cross makes a mockery of human rhetoric for its own selfish ends. The Cross is the only authentic response to the fears and sorrow of the dying.


“Greater Love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

We are to fight for Love. We are to be soldiers for Christ, for Good and for Love. When the darkness falls, when all seems black, when the pain becomes unbearable, we have to struggle for the trul love to shine through us, and that is so hard.

This is why we honour our fallen soldiers. Not because we glorify war, nor pretend that human causes are what God wants, but because those who die in the trenches teach us a vital lesson as to how fallen humanity is and how we need to learn to love again and fight to love again. We honour the fallen, and we entreat God for their souls, that their pain and suffering may be bound up with Our Saviour’s pain and suffering, and thereby, they might rise with Christ in His glory and to their Eternal joy. We honour the sacrifice that they make in that they believe they fight for Good and seek Good better in our own lives and in our Societies all around the world. Their deaths are not in vain because they are bound with thr death of Christ. All is not lost. All is gained for those who love God.

And this is something that we truly need to remember.

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