Today... as we meet here for worship...
many, many people are gathering at cenotaphs
across the world, inside and outside the Commonwealth.
At least 23 nations.
There is nothing simple about how and why people gather.
I remember going with my Mom to our local cenotaph,
in downtown Oakville, Ontario.
It was one of the few places that I ever saw her cry.
Her brother was killed while flying over Japan in WW II.
Today I live in a place of in-between.
I am the proud Mom of two sons, both who, I would say, live with a ‘bottom-line’ of peace.
Allan is in many ways a pacifist.
Nathan is in the Military, presently serving in Search and Rescue.
Both believe in and work for peace.
The phrase - ‘Lest we forget’ has been spoken again and again,
in these last few weeks.
I imagine many take for granted, that the phrase has always
been connected with Remembrance Day.
We assume that it became a saying to encourage the world
not to forget those who served, fought and in too many cases,
died to protect our freedoms.
It has served that purpose,
but it actually began as a prayer.... a poem, by Rudyard Kipling in 1897.
Kipling wrote the poem to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
It was a call to humility when the British Empire was
claiming superiority over the rest of the world...
a call to remember that God was still the Creator
and thus sovereign over all, even the British people.
The entire poem is addressed to God as a prayer.
God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Have a look at the rest of the poem online.
Rudyard Kipling was urging the people not to forget who they were,
and to whom they belonged.
We are a people who follow a man who lived for the cause of peace.
He was a peace-maker and calls us to the same.
Jesus proclaimed a new response to violence.
Non-violence.... even in the face of evil ... in the face of violence.
Today’s lesson makes this clear.
Jesus quotes the Hebrew scriptures: ‘It is written, an eye for an eye’...
and then Jesus says... there is a better way.
‘Don’t hit back... give when something has been taken,
Live generously... do not meet violence with violence.
We are followers of the Christ,
and we are loved by the God of justice and hope.
Lest we forget... Lest we forget!
Who we are and to whom we belong.
In 1921, the red poppy was adopted by the Royal British Legion
as the symbol of a campaign to provide aid for soldiers
serving in the British armed forces.
Since then the red poppy has become closely tied
to commemorating the casualties of war, and raising funds
for wounded soldiers and their families.
Some of you may have seen white poppies this year,
or you may be wearing one.
The White Poppy Movement began in 1933.
Members of the Women’s Co-Operative Guild
started to wear the white poppy to symbolise their objection to violence and war.
Shocked by the devastation on family life wrought by the First World War,
the Guild launched an active campaign for peace.
Money raised from the sales of white poppies,
which were worn on Armistice Day, were sent to conscientious objectors
and war resistors throughout Europe.
Increasingly, the white poppy became a symbol of pacifism.
In 1936 it was adopted by the Peace Pledge Union,
today Britain’s oldest secular pacifist organisation.
Disappearing for a while, the while poppy had a brief renewal in the 1980’s,
and now is being worn more and more.
There had always been a clash of sorts between
red poppy wearers... and white poppy wearers.
Often a misunderstanding of convictions,
sharpened by a reluctance to open one’s heart.
Listen to a story... the author who is unknown to me...
The young woman, I will call Claire, can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened because of Remembrance Day.
At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.
While most of the poppies people wore were red, Claire began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people. She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies.
You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to
wear red poppies. In many homes, poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars.
The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. Claire had forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel as she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep.
She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.
After dinner, Claire suggested that they pop down to the pub for a chat with her Grandmother’s neighbors. Usually, her Grandmother would have jumped at the chance to show her granddaughter off to her friends. But she seemed more than a little reluctant on this occasion. She so rarely refused her granddaughter anything, but it still took a great deal of cajoling before the young woman managed to talk her Grandmother into venturing out into the world.
As they were putting on their coats to leave, the Grandmother asked her granddaughter to remove the white poppy from her coat.
Claire noticed her Grandmother’s red poppy but refused to take off her white one. She began to lecture ... in that pompous way that only young people who don’t know any better, can about the horrors of war and the need to stand up for peace.
Her Grandmother insisted that she could stand up anywhere that she wanted to for peace but not in her neighbourhood, not in front of her friends, not tonight. And then their battle began in earnest. They started calmly, but firmly arguing over the poppies. Before long, they were shouting and eventually the Grandmother, stormed out of the house and went to the pub without Claire.
The young woman discretely went to bed before her Grandmother came home. Each woman slept fitfully, bemoaning the fact that they had declared their own kind of war.
Early the next morning the young woman rose quietly, hoping to dash off to London before her Grandmother awoke. Claire was just about to make a clean get away, when her Grandmother came into the living room. She was carrying a uniform. A uniform the young woman had never seen before; a uniform that stopped the young woman cold in her tracks.
Over breakfast the old woman explained that during the Second World War, she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The men were all off fighting and so the government had consented to letting women do their bit. Her job in the WAAFs was carried out on the home front. Every evening after she had fed her kids supper, she would send them off to the air-raid shelter with a neighbour, then she would put on her uniform and head off to the hills over Birmingham, where she would “man” an anti-aircraft gun.
After telling Claire stories that she had rarely told anyone before, the old woman invited granddaughter to come her to British Legion later that morning. Awed by all she had been told, Claire changed her plans and agreed to meet her Grandmother down at the Legion hall in about an hour.
On her way to the Legion hall, Claire bought a red poppy and timidly pinned it to her lapel. When she finally caught up with her Grandmother, the old woman couldn’t help but smile when she saw the red poppy pinned to her beloved granddaughter’s lapel.
Claire however, couldn’t manage a smile. Not through her tears. The young woman was overcome by the sight of the white poppy that was pinned to her Grandmother’s lapel.
The two women fell into one another’s arms and for a moment, just a moment the two held one another other in the presence of a peace beyond words; a peace which surpasses all our understanding. That peace that only love can achieve. The peace that the world is yearning to experience.
As the last post was trumpeted on that cold November 11th, separated by generations, perspectives, opinions, and commitments, two women stood united in love and remembered. Together, they stood hoping and praying for peace.
RED AND WHITE = US.
Today we gather... remembering who we are and to whom we belong.
Jesus is the one who was willing to embody his teachings
of non-violent resistance in the face of oppression.
There is a way, it is the road less travelled but it is the way that Jesus walked,
and it is a pathway open to us if we but dare to walk with the Christ.
What will it cost us to be keepers of the peace?
Are we willing to ‘put peace into each other’s hands?'
With love we just might be able to.
I don’t have any easy answers, but on this day,
when we remember the courage and commitment of our ancestors,
should we not also look to the future and dream new dreams.
Lest we forget who we are and to whom we belong,
are we prepared to be about the work of loving our enemies?
Do we have the courage to follow Jesus?
The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord, God of Host, be with us yet,
Lest we forget. Lest we forget.