It’s a bit of an embarrassment, sometimes, to be a preacher. Sometimes we are asked to speak on topics we have no business speaking about.
I’m not a soldier, I have never been a soldier, my country has never called on me to be a soldier—yet here I am, as I have been so many times before, on the Sunday before Remembrance Day, speaking about war and the brave men and women who lived through such difficult times, people who have lived with hurt and nightmarish pain ever since, and to pay respect to those who paid the supreme sacrificed by giving their lives in battle; for freedom, for peace, for you and for me.
I have no business being here, addressing these issues, yet here I am, to speak on behalf of every member of this parish and to simply say thank you: thank you to every soldier, sailor, airman, medic, merchant marine, civilian who died in war; and to say thank you to everyone who fought and has had to live with their memories, their losses and their pain; and to say thank you to all those who supported those who fought; and thank you to everyone who lived during those times and who made many sacrifices as well; sacrificing a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend, a dream.
I have had the distinct honour of knowing many soldiers and sailors in my years of ministry, but I have never known one who died in war. That truth became very obvious to me many years ago when I was doing a children’s talk on the Sunday before Remembrance Day. I asked if anyone knew a soldier who had died in battle, expecting of course to see all these young head shake “no.” But one little boy said that his uncle had died the year before fighting in the US Army. I didn’t know what to say—it wasn’t what I expected. The reality of war and death came home to us, came home to all who were gathered in that church that morning. War means that people die; soldiers die; men, women and children die.
And today, in a small act of remembrance we wear a red poppy, to remember the soldiers who died in war, to remember a sacrifice most of us have not been asked to make. But the act of remembrance, of wearing a small red poppy over our hearts, is not just to remember people we may or may not have met, it’s not just to honour veterans, but it’s a reminder to work for peace. To commit ourselves to choosing peace whenever possible. And to expect the same of our leaders. This small red poppy reminds us that war means bloodshed and death.
The red of the poppy is a stark reminder that failure to remember, failure to remember the violent and brutal cost of war will result in the spilling of blood again and again. We honour the dead, we honour their sacrifice by making sure that we are not thrust into that madness every again.
That’s why poppies must be red. That’s why we remember, because the cost of forgetting is just too high. The red poppy is a symbol of peace, and profoundly so, for it carries with it the stain of blood, the stain of forgetting the sheer obscenity of war. Remembrance is an act of peace, remembrance is an expression of a deep understanding that to work for peace, to achieve peace is the best, is the only way to truly honour the supreme sacrifice made my so many. Amen.