There is an odd feeling about this weekend of Remembrance. A strange ambivalence perhaps. Because our thoughts as a nation have been so focused on the end of a war.
On VE Day, the end of the second world war, when people had endured so much bombing and hardship, devastation and loss, people were dancing in the streets. But we don’t feel like dancing.
None of us remember the First World War. We may have grandfathers or great-uncles who went to war then. But not many of us will have had a father, let alone a husband, a brother or a son. The First World War is one step removed from us.
Maybe that is why we can see it with such terrifying clarity for what it was and for how it epitomises the horror, the filth, the fear, the mess, the chaos, the destruction and the dreadful, dreadful carnage of war; that war and every war before and since.
We have photographs of the First World War, some moving images too. We may scan those grainy images to see if there is a face we recognise. In the soldier carrying a wounded comrade on his shoulders or the broken body lying face down in the mud we see our loved ones; perhaps we even see ourselves. The First World War holds up a mirror to us. It was meant to be the war to end all wars. It wasn’t.
We also know that those young men who set out from our shores, so many of them never to return, or to come home with life-changing injuries, shell-shock or Spanish flu did it for us, for King and Country. They did it to try and build a better world.
We salute their courage and we grieve for them.
We grieve for their families too and for the unimaginable suffering they went through, many of them having to bear the loss of several loved ones in the course of that terrible conflict.
Like the silhouettes which have sat here in church over the weekend they are there but not there. They have become part of us.
They remind us of servicemen and women of every generation since who have gone to war. Their courage. Their humanity. Their sacrifice.
We do not forget because we cannot forget.
I was talking quite recently with a very elderly gentleman who fought in the Second World War. “Do you think about it much,” I asked him. “Oh yes,” he replied. “And when I do it’s as vivid as if it were yesterday.”
The soldier cannot forget; none of us can. That is why so many of us have felt the need to visit the Battlefields of France and the graves of other loved ones whose lives were laid down far from home. We have needed to go and see for ourselves and pay our respects.
And why the Titchfield Remembers group went to such extraordinary lengths to find out about the local men whose names were not recorded on the original memorial.
Those additional names are here in church too, on a new memorial, which now hangs alongside the original memorial. It comforts us as a community that something has been put right, even though we did not know these men personally.
For me, there is something really significant about the fact that those names are in church. I have often been told by those who know that there are no atheists in war and, while I completely respect that sitting here today we have a whole range of views about the things of God, I hope it’s true.
When we have to look death in the face what a comfortit brings to know we are not alone; even more so to believe that if the worst happens it is in dying we are born to eternal life.
Even if we don’t believe in God he believes in us. God created us, God loves us and he never leaves our side. Nothing is ever lost to God; no-one is ever forgotten by him. Not the soldiers who died in the trenches, not the airman whose plane was shot down from the sky, not the sailor lost at sea. Not the man shot a dawn for desertion because of the trauma of it all. Not the terrified child caught up in the conflict in Yemen.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God shown for us in Jesus Christ.
They live on in our memories.
They live on in the freedom we continue to enjoy.
They live on because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Lord Jesus, you stood beside those we remember today as they fought to build a better world.
You stand among us today as we try to imagine the fear and pain and loneliness of the wounded and the dying in the battlefield.
Comfort those who live in our times with loss, injury and illness as a result of war
and strengthen us in all we do to seek the peace and freedom which are your desire for the world.
In your name we pray. Amen.