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SERVICE AND SACRIFICE

This week I have been watching a series on BBC4 – ‘The Last Tommies’. A moving series of interviews not based on facts or footage but on the direct human experience of World War 1.

There were many that lied about their age, claiming to be older than they were, so they could answer Kitchener’s call to arms, ‘your country needs you’, interpreted as a call to adventure – rather than an invitation to sacrifice their own young lives in what would become a human massacre and tragedy. As one interviewee said, ‘mistakenly we thought it was a game that would not last long’. It simply did not occur to many that they might never come back. For those who never came home, both then and in subsequent conflicts, their young lives were given to enable others to live in peace and freedom.

One such young person who never came home to this parish from the first world war was Frank Knowles. His great nephew has kindly lent us his memorial plaque, which became known as the ‘dead man’s penny’. 1.35million of these were issued to the next of kin of all British Empire personnel who gave their lives. Please take time afterwards, if you are able, to look at the display.

Our readings today, are linked to service and sacrifice. God in Christ calling people to service – ‘not your country needs you’, but ‘your God desires your participation in the creator’s mission to the world’.

What was it in Jesus that the disciples found so irresistible to abandon their homes and livelihoods? They may not have realised it at the time, but as time progressed Christ made it clear to follow him would cost them – it would cost them in the short term, and there would be their own failures on the way – but ultimately it would be worth it.

The readings give us that opportunity to remember that Christ is always calling, not just then, but even now, to a life of service and sacrifice. He is not distant or uncaring, rather he is a Lord who has led by example, embracing the ultimate sacrifice himself by his own self-offering on the cross. An action which brought, and still brings, humankind freedom and hope for the future, but an action too that invites a response on our part.

That response of believing and following him, is to embrace the right choice, that there is another way for the world to go, the way of peace. One that avoids the mistakes of the past.

Today the world remembers the one hundredth anniversary of the ending of the First World War, the war that was supposed to be the one that ended all wars. Into this anniversary and into this remembrance let the world replace the clarion call of destruction, and answer the call of God in Christ, to repent; to start again afresh.

Because at the heart of Christian faith, and any faith, is the command to love – love God and love our neighbour.

The poppy reminds us of sacrifice, and also of new life emerging on Flanders Fields where soldiers lie underneath, so too in Christian faith, the eucharist serves to remind us of Christ’s self-giving sacrificial love so that people like Frank Knowles, his comrades, those who have given their lives in all conflicts, and you and I, might live again.

Amen


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