This sunday I was not in my own parish, or indeed ministering in any parish. I won’t go into the reasons now, but I found myself at a Parish Eucharist somewhere I had never been before. I didn’t know the church, or anyone there, so didn’t know what to expect other than knowing that the church labels itself as ‘inclusive and liberal catholic’.
I didn’t get what I expected. It was a Parish Eucharist with a 9:30 start time, where the hymns were sung at a snail’s pace, and the spoken liturgy at the speed of light. The Act of Remembrance which was very short and not particularly meaningful, came in the middle of the service, at around 10am, shoehorned in between the sermon and intercessions. There were many things about the service which irritated me, the slow music, the badly delivered liturgy, the complete lack of imagination in making it meaningful, and the fact that the parish felt it was ok to also have that sunday as the Mother’s Union corporate communion.
But what really annoyed me, and actually made me quite angry, was the sermon. The sermon boiled down to two main points.
1 – We should all be grateful to those who died fighting in wars and defending our freedom and the values of this Christian country, because these Christian values that we hold as a nation are good values, unlike the values of other people/nations.
2 – Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, he came to bring war, and there will be war on earth until we have evangelised the whole world, until every person has heard the good news of Jesus. We are fighting a battle against the forces of evil.
I know that many preachers find preaching on Remembrance Sunday quite difficult. I don’t pretend to have the answers or some kind of magic formula. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so utterly stupid and outrageous said on Remembrance Sunday, and it got me wondering about what we think we are remembering.
I’m too young to remember any wars before the first Gulf War. Although the Falklands War happened in my lifetime, I was so young at the time and it happened so far away, that it had no impact on my life. So I have no idea what it is like to live through war, to serve in the armed forces, to see your friends and colleagues die and be wounded in front of your very eyes. But I can’t help but feel that in some quarters we have forgotten what we are meant to be remembering.
For me, it seems that we should be remembering the futility and sheer awfulness of war. That people died because of the pure greed, bloody-mindedness, and prejudice of other people. And it still goes on. I heard someone in the pub the other day talking about a difficult pupil in their class they had some years ago. There was a meeting between the parents and teacher. I don’t know what the outcome was but the person regaling the story went on to say “well , of course they were Jewish” by way of explaining what was felt to be an unhelpful attitude from the parents. I was so taken aback I literally didn’t know what to say. I wish I had said something but we all know how hard it can be to be ‘that person’ sometimes.
Perhaps this Remembrance Sunday I will simply pray that we all remember what happens when prejudice goes unchallenged.