November 2015

Remembering


Earlier this year, as part of a study tour (Eastern Synod Minister’s Spring School), us ministers spent 5 days in France and Belgium. (NB Somewhat bizarrely spending a week in northern France including coach and tunnel and accommodation is significantly cheaper than anywhere in UK). The theme was titled ‘In Flanders Field, through mud and blood to green fields beyond – sites of peace and reconciliation on the western front’. I like short snappy titles!

Over the week we visited significant WW1 sites in northern France and Western Belgium. We reflected, in the context of the rolling 100 years anniversary of WW1 events, on issues of war and peace both in the past and the issues that arise in the present day. Our facilitators were two Mennonites, who are pacifists, and a former Air Force chaplain who is a URC minister. The lectures and discussion were supported by excursions to sites in and around Ypres in Belgium.

Of the many impressions and encounters during the week (and there were many ‘highlights’) I think the one that made the biggest impression on me was the visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery. Though there are 100 British and Commonwealth military cemeteries in the area, Tyne Cot is the largest. In fact it is the largest WW1 commonwealth cemetery in the world. Almost 12,000 servicemen are buried there, 8000 unidentified. Around the edge is a wall with 35,000 names of soldiers whose bodies were never recovered. These all fell defending Ypres 1914-18, and their names couldn’t fit on the Menim Gate in Ypres. The cemetery is well cared for, and the row on row of thousands of white grave stones was incredibly moving. The cemetery was both beautiful and horrific all at the same time.

It was beautiful because the manicured lawns, flowers, headstones and memorials have a picturesque appeal. It was horrific as behind every headstone and name lay a person whose God given potential was cut off, frequently at an exceptionally young age. It was moving, it was saddening, it reminded me again of why we celebrate Remembrance Day.

It was interesting in the discussion both informal and guided that we agreed that war is wrong, that it is evil and causes evil. Where the discussion became impassioned was over the issue of whether war can be used to stop even greater evil, and if that is the case if it can ever be called ‘just’.

We live in a messy, fallen world, and though we would like to think it, there is no easy answer. Jesus did say, however ‘Blessed be the peacemakers’. And whether we are pacifists or believe that sometimes war is a necessary evil, we need to seek true peace between neighbour and nation. And making and sustaining peace is frequently harder work than anger, guns or war. In this uncertain world I pray that we can do the hard work of peace-making and if we do, God will bless us.

 

David
November 2015

David