Quietness, the complete absence of sound, stillness
All of us are aware of what silence is and yet there are many types of silence. There is the silence of glorying in a dawn of a new day.There is the companionable silence of two people being together and not having to say anything to each other. There is the silence and stillness of our souls that comes from being in the presence of God – whether that is through prayer, reflection, meditation or simply being.
In contrast there is that awkward silence when someone says the wrong thing, when someone proverbially ‘puts their foot in it’. There is the frosty, thick, awkward, hostile, silence which is an outward expression of irreconcilable hostility. ‘He/she isn’t talking to me.’ This silence is very much a form of shouting.
The silence that we will have today, Remembrance Sunday, is a very different type of silence. It is a corporate silence, a silence of remembering. It’s a silence of respect, honour and sacrifice. It is the recognition that in order to do justice to what has happened, to do justice to the cost of war, its sacrifice and shame – we do not need to say anything. Rather we need to be silent together.
Remembrance Sunday draws humans together in a way is almost unique. Young and old gather to remember and reflect, each allowing some aspect of the reality of war to touch their soul. Some who gather will bring new or not so new memories of active service. Some will carry in their heart the memory of a specially loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many will be stretching their imaginations to try to grasp what those people must be feeling. All will be praying that as time rolls forwards we will find ways of resolving differences and repelling aggressors which do not involve warfare.
This year has been a significant year for us, both nationally and locally. On 1st July this year our nation commemorated the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the defining events of the First World War. It was one of the bloodiest military battles in history. On the first day alone, the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties, and by the end of the campaign the Allies and Central Powers had lost more than 1.5 million men.
This was brought home to us more poignantly because of the local connection for us here in Prestwich. Heaton Park played a prominent role in both World War 1 and 2 as it was used for the billeting and training of thousands of soldiers.
Heaton Park, for that weekend in July, became a place of remembering, a place of images, action and reflection to commemorate the centenary of the anniversary of the Somme. There was the ‘Experience Field’ simulation, the Path of the Remembered and an evening concert. The silence at the end of the concert had a unique way of drawing those present together with the 19, 240 who died on the first day of the battle of the Somme.
Earlier this year I had the experience of going to Ypres. It was a beautiful day, brilliant blue sky and the sun was shining. As people got of the coach to see row upon row of graves, conversations ceased and there was silence, a respecting and honouring of all who had given their lives in service.
Inside the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ it isn’t silence. There is a continuous haunting drone that runs throughout the museum and yet that music leads you into an inner silence. The silence of remembering, remembering horror of war, remembering the sacrifices.
Last week I went to a firework display in Rugby. The firework display started with the poem ‘the Soldier’ by the war poet Rupert Brooke who was from Rugby. There was two minutes silence and the explosive sounds of fireworks as red, poppy like sparks floated down from the sky to the silent crowd
Perhaps because our world is so busy and so noisy, the times of silence that we have are so much more meaningful and precious – especially today.
There is something about the First World War and the experience of those who fought in it that still has something uniquely significant to say to us all today as we reflect on war and peace, conflict and struggle, violence and terrorism in our own generation. In the silence we remember those legacies.
The redefinition of heroism.
Many of those returning home on leave from the trenches were unable to speak about what they had experienced and endured. They understood that real heroism was based on endurance, loyalty and the daily struggle to retain integrity and humanity in the midst of unspeakably difficult conditions rather than some nebulous image of a super hero. Heroism redefined by truth that shines out in the midst of pain and suffering, ultimately shown in the cross of Jesus Christ.
It was a war whose effects reached out into almost every household in the land. It was not only those who were on the battle fields, but men, women and children at home. It emphasised our dependence on each and our mutual humanity.
Our Christian faith emphasises our interconnectedness and mutuality. We cannot hide from the consequences of human suffering. The poet, John Donne said ‘Everyman’s death diminishes me’. A vision nurtured and strengthened though the terrible experience of war is bound to be a vison of interdependence and mutual service. As part of our act of remembrance earlier in the service we recommitted ourselves to working towards a better world.
Our need to stand against evil.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to a friend in 1939 saying that he was fully committed to the decision that had been taken to go to war and yet he said, ‘We recognise that this is all to do with the sin in which we are all implicated so the best thing that we can do is a bad thing’ He said ‘War in itself never produces a positive good, though it can restrain worse evils.’
We need to remember not to allow the past to capture us in its worst moments but to build us up for the future. We remember not only to honour the fallen, but to raise them in our hearts and to promise to live lives worthy of their sacrifice. We hope for a better world for the future – a world of justice and peace, mercy and truth. We hope for the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth and recognise the role that we play in bringing it about.
In the silence let us commemorate the heroism shown past and present.
In the silence let us reflect on our humanity and our interconnectedness.
In the silence let us become aware of our need to stand against evil.
In the silence let is hope for a world of justice, righteousness and peace.
And in the silence let us commit our world and our future to God.
It is also a silence of hope, for a better future