Sunday, 9 November 2014

Poppies at Remembrance

'Blood soaked lands and seas of red', Paul Cummins.
Remembrance Sunday Sermon

1 Thessalonians 4: 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 
Matthew 25: 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Last week we made a family trip to see the Poppies at the Tower of London.
I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to go and see this installation – evocatively named ‘Blood soaked lands and seas of red’, by artist Paul Cummins.
Since August 3rd each day 1000s of ceramic poppies, with steel stems of between 1 and 50 cms in height, have been ‘planted’ inside the dry moat at the Tower – they now cover an area equivalent to 16 football pitches.
You look down from the railings around the moat to see, not green grass, but red poppies – a sea of crimson that appears to float around the base of the Tower in waves.
It’s quite a sight. Each of the 888, 246 poppies represents a British or Colonial fatality in the First World War and at £25 each (and all already pre-sold) many millions will have been raised for the Royal British Legion.

Why has the poppy come to represent the War dead and Remembrance?
It is a powerful symbol of life lost – red blood – and fragility.
It was Lt. Col. John McCrae who immortalised them in his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, written in 1915 after the death of McCrae’s friend and fellow soldier, Alexis Helmer, who died in the second battle of Ypres.
According to anecdote the poem was discarded after McCrae was dissatisfied with his attempt. But someone retrieved it and it was published in Punch at the end of the year.
After his poem was published, the women of devastated France began making poppies and cornflowers for the war graves.
A Mme Guerin of the YMCA saw that the poppy could become a universal symbol and took her idea to London, where it was adopted.

Poppies grow best on broken ground' and they flourished in Flanders. Today the poppy remains a universal symbol of bloody death, remembrance and defiant rebirth. It carries with it sadness that men can kill on a scale that we must never forget. It takes this little flower to tell us this. It has become the soldier’s most reliable friend, enduring in times of war and peace. And it unites the country like no other.’

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, May 1915

The Christian faith has a framework within which death takes its place and is not the final word.
‘If it for this life alone that we have hope, we are more to be pitied than all people’, said the apostle Paul.
We are caught up in a sweep of history in which Christ holds our beginnings and our endings.
The early Christians had a better grasp of eschatology (that is, the things to do with the wrapping up of history) than we do today.
So Paul can say, in our Epistle, ‘we do not want you to be uninformed…about those who have died, so that you may not grieve, as others do, without hope.
He’s not saying we do not grieve – of course those who lose loved ones grieve - especially when they are cut down before their time.
But we do not grieve without hope.
The plan of salvation in Christ has a universal stretch extending back through history, through war and rumours of wars, right up to the present day and beyond, to include our own individual places in it.
When we hear the bugler play the Last Post, we recall that there will be a Last Trump from our God too: ‘For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the Archangel’s call, and with the sound of the Last Trumpet, will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise…’

So how do we live in the meantime?
We live with gratitude for those who lost their lives, and continue to do so, in other conflicts around the world, for our freedom.
We live in faith that death is not the end and that e are not without hope.
We live in readiness for Christ’s return, or for our own end, whichever comes first.
We live as informed about Christ – not as those who are caught on the hop, like the foolish bridesmaids of our gospel, who seemed unaware that the bridegroom was coming back.

The poppies at the Tower will be taken away in 2 day’s time.
We can be proud that in our nation Remembrance is alive and well, 100 years after the outbreak of the Great War, and that charities such as the British Legion still support the victims of war.
May we work and pray as those who can make a difference in the world, who long for peace and reconciliation, and who, in the strength of Christ, model those things in our own lives.

We end with a prayerful reflection on the poppy and a request that God will shine his light on us today and always.

'Poppies bring vibrant colour into dark places.
Poppies remind us that our false certainties are frail beyond measure.
Poppies bring memories and reminders
Of past hopes; present dangers and future fears.
As we bring our darkness, bring our certainties, bring our memories
Into the presence of God, The Creator, The Christ, The Comforter,
We seek healing; we seek blessing; we seek peace.
We remember the colourful, frail and human lives cut down in time of War,
And we seek faith in God Who suffers in our broken-ness
And walks with us through The Valley of the shadow of death
Into the wholeness and promise of Resurrection.

Lord shine your light upon us so that we may may see your compass to guide us'.


Material in quotation marks provided with the kind collaboration of friend and fellow Christian Colonel Guy Horridge, Airborne Forces.

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