Today is remembrance Day. It is a very significant one – the centenary of Armistice Day. World War 1 ended on this day, 100 years ago.
It has been called the Great War, yet I cannot think of it as great. In that war alone – fought on the other side of the world, 61,928 Australians were killed, (over 1.3% of the population), and more than 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. (3%). Families were decimated. Children orphaned, women widowed, parents left childless, communities decimated.
In 1914, in September, when only a few battles had been fought, an English poet wrote this poem, which is called “Ode to the Fallen”. You will recognise at least a part of it very well.
“Ode to the Fallen”. By Laurence Binyon.
“With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is a music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”
We gather this morning in our usual way. We sing of God’s love, and we reflect on Jesus’ teaching, as he and his disciples watched a poor widow throw her last two coins into theTemple treasury, while wealthy scribes were recognised and acknowledged in market-places, even though they subscribed to unfair practices where the destitute were robbed of their homes.
Certainly, we must remember the sacrifices made in the name of freedom – even a century later. We must also remember those who are destitute, and poor, and lonely now. Warfare is still causing devastation, heartbreak and tragedy, and millions are left to wander the earth as refugees and asylum seekers. What a challenging balance is called for!
As Christian community, we must call for an end to all war. That is the very reason Binyon’s poem entreats us to remember those who were lost – because, if we do not remember them, we will forget why they died, and how pointless it was. …’lest we forget…’
Arguably, all warfare is caused by human greed and desire for power. These are the evils we must call out, in our own culture and society. Just as Jesus pointed out to his disciples.The poor widow gave all she had. We must not ask that of our neighbour. We, as a society, must care for those who are struggling. Lest we forget.