Chaplain's Address

The Second Address at the Remembrance Sunday Service 2009
By the Chaplain

On behalf of everyone here this morning I would wish to express our gratitude that a young former pupil, Captain Adam Lee could speak to us today because he could offer words and reflections that are beyond the experiences, and dare I say the realistic imaginations, of those of us who are wrapped up in school life. In offering a continuation of our thoughts I would like to begin with some words that I have taken from someone else, but that take our first reading as their starting point:

'There is a time for every matter under heaven'. Today is a time for reflecting on the human cost of seeking for justice; on the generosity of so many people, young and not so young, in facing and meeting that cost; and on the countless mysterious ways in which such people have been equipped to meet the cost, through their relationships, through the quiet support and inspiration of those who love them and have shaped who they are. A time to reflect on the unexpected qualities of people like ourselves who, caught up in the confusions of a great international upheaval, simply got on with the task they were given because they believed that order and justice mattered.

Those are not words reflecting specifically on the two great wars of the last century. They were spoken in St. Paul's Cathedral just a month ago by the Archbishop of Canterbury, at a commemoration to mark the end of military operations in Iraq.

As we have gathered here this Sunday, as we must year after year, to keep a minute of silence for each of the two great wars our thoughts must also turn towards those who have died or have been injured or who have indeed simply continue to faithfully serve in our armed forces up to and including today.

During the time of my childhood I was very aware of the on-going armed conflict within the borders of our own nation in Northern Ireland and the terrorist attacks that caused such horror here in mainland Britain. I celebrated the signing of Belfast Agreement that celebrated the ceasefire 11 years ago and is known as the Good Friday agreement: the date reflecting a significance that I would like to use as my conclusion in a few moments.

For all of us today we have the reality of continuing conflicts, brought home literally to many of you here and those of you whose parents are serving our nation abroad.

As a country we do not celebrate war. But we honour those whom we remember and we have a debt of gratitude that should be with us everyday of our lives, and not simply symbolised by being here, or by the poppy we wear for one week each year.

There is time for war, and a time for peace. The reading from Ecclesiastes is a reflection on the whole of human life, not just a religiously optimistic view that all will be well and that suffering does not have a place in life as we experience it. It does not say that war must happen but it acknowledges that it is a reality.

And that is the context in which we live. We can argue about the philosophical rights and wrongs of war; and indeed before entering into conflict we must do so. But once we have gone into war then so many things must change.

One of my earliest sermons as chaplain here I illustrated with a series of Power Point slides, and I looked at the arguments that are known as just war theory. They look at the legitimacy of entering into war and also the force and rules by which combat should be governed. We do not have the right to use disproportionate force, and the rights of those who are non-combatants must always be upheld.

The Church of England was one of the strongest voices calling for restraint and reflection before we went into Iraq for this second time. But once the war began our priority turned completely towards the support of soldiers, their families through prayer, using the public platform of the church to speak out and through practical support, by Christians here at home and those who accompany soldiers on active service.

It serves no-one to have voices questioning the legitimacy of a war once the decision has been made and the battles have begun. Our role is not to undermine those who fight on our behalf, or to criticise the government whom we equally have elected to represent us. The role of those who govern and of the armed services is to serve our will. Our role is to support them in action - for as long as it takes to get the job done -- to welcome and value them on their return and to honour those who are the fallen.

We sadly live in a world where we our individual rights are emphasised much more than our communal responsibility. St. John uses the haunting phrase: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. And by this we reflect upon the loyalty and love that is found amongst the friends and comrades whose lives depend on one another and the self-giving heroism of which we hear. There are some examples of this even within the small biographies Mrs. Joy Thomas prepared to be included in the final pages of the orders of service you are holding. I very much commend you to take them away to read for yourselves.

Otherwise, we are in danger of distancing ourselves from our service men and women by feeling that if we did not personally sanction their decisions then we abrogate our responsibility to honour them.

There have been a number of occasions; one would have been too many; when returning service men and women, carrying the injuries of their service or even wearing the uniforms of their regiments; have been treated with contempt. This has been from those whom live daily in the luxury of a peace and a security for which they did not fight

When we as Christians consider the sacrifice that purchased peace and mercy for the whole world, we think not only of the death of Jesus on the cross but also of the cost of love and openness that marked his entire life.

Many years ago someone said to me quite bluntly that they didn't ask Jesus to die for them so why should they give any regard to his life?

Regardless of whether you accept the saving act of Jesus' death, we owe consideration and respect for the values by which he lived, not least because they are the foundational values of our own culture and society.

The death of Jesus may seem distant to us, in the way that the wars of the last century begin to recede into history as those surviving veterans, such as Harry Patch, reach the natural end of their lives.

We should remember them with honour: always looking back to remind ourselves what must be learned and to seek not to repeat the mistakes of the past. But most importantly our calling is to have lives of that reflect the value all of the sacrifices that have been made by those who came before us.

I mentioned earlier that the Belfast Agreement is more often referred to be the day on which it was signed: Good Friday. That, like today, is a day of remembrance. It is the darkest day of the Christian year but it is eclipsed by the joy and new life of Easter.

We are the people who are privileged to live in the ongoing Easter of peace and joy and new life. That is our inheritance of infinite value.

We must never forget the cost before Easter; and that the Good Friday of sacrifice and self-giving continues on our behalf, elsewhere in the world, even today.

The Revd David Johnson
Dauntsey's School Chaplain
November 2009