Introduction and Welcome
Good morning, and welcome to our service this morning. It is usual on Remembrance Sunday to have an act of remembrance for those in our armed forces who have given their lives in the line of duty, but this year, I would also like to include the many people who have died in wartime as civilians or members of the Civil Defence services, such as the ARP (Air Raid Protection) service, National Fire Service, Rescue workers, Ambulance service, Police and Home Guard, all of whom would have been out on the streets in air raids, rather than in the relative safety of the shelters.
But in amongst all the destruction of war, homes, businesses and lived ruined, we can remember that God is there with us. God has seen it all, and feels the pain as keenly as us. God is our refuge and strength and is there with us when times get tough.
Bible Reading 2 Corinthians 5 v 18-21
All these new things are from God who brought us back to himself through what Christ Jesus did. And God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favour and be reconciled to him. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors. God is using us to speak to you: we beg you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, receive the love he offers you—be reconciled to God. For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us!
Extract from ‘The Wall’ by William Sanson
It was our third job that night. Until then work had been without incident. There had been shrapnel, bombs and some huge fires. I suppose we were worn down and shivering. Three am is a mean-spirited hour. I suppose we were drenched, with the cold water trickling in at our collars and settling down at the tail of our shirts.
And there we were, Len Lofty, Verno and myself – playing a 50-foot jet up the face of a tall city warehouse, and thinking of nothing at all. You don’t think of anything after the first few hours.
Very suddenly, a long rattling crack of bursting brick and mortar perforated the moment. And then the upper half of that five-storey building heaved over towards us. It hung there poised for a timeless second before rumbling down on us. I was thinking of nothing at all, and then I was thinking of everything in the world.
Blocking us on the left was the squat trailer pump, roaring and quivering with effort, water throbbing from the overflow and the fat cast iron exhaust glowing red in the dark. Lofty was staring at the controls, his hands in his armpits for warmth.
A wall will fall in many ways. It may sway over to one side or the other. It may crumble at the beginning of the fall. It may remain intact and fall flat. This one fell as flat as a pancake. It clung to its shape and then slammed down on top of us.
The last resistance of bricks and mortar at the pivot point cracked off like automatic gunfire. The violent sound deafened us and brought us to our senses. We dropped the hose and crouched. There was an incredible noise – a thunderclap condensed into the space of an eardrum – and then the red-hot bricks and mortar came tearing and burning into the flesh of my face.
Lofty, by the pump, was killed instantly. Len, Verno and myself they dug out. There was very little brick on top of us. We had been lucky. We had been framed by one of those large oblong window spaces.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of leading a church service in a ruin. The ruin on an ancient abbey. And here we are, remembering life On The Home Front, 70 years ago. Just imagine for a minute the Blitz. Your church, your home, your business lies in ruins, just like Rufford Abbey, or Coventry Cathedral. How would you feel? For most of us, anger will be in pole position. “How dare they do this to us?” And I would imagine, “Why?” would come a close second. Why has this happened to me, to us? And possibly, “Why has God let this happen?”
And then there will be the grief and despair. How will I cope? And this can lead to bitterness. The bearing of a lifetime of grudge, or unforgiveness. And like worry, unforgiveness damages our own soul.
So not only do we have damaged or destroyed buildings, we have damaged or destroyed people. The bitterness can eat away at our soul until there is nothing left.
After the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ raid of 14 November 1940 destroyed Coventry Cathedral, and a large area of the historic city, Provost Howard had the words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the wall behind the Altar of the ruined building. There was controversy – should the words be ‘Father Forgive’, or ‘Father Forgive Them’. As you can see in the photo, just two words were inscribed, recognising that we all have things we need to seek the Father’s forgiveness for, not just the Germans who bombed the city.
After teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus put it very simply: “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.”
What happens if someone does something nasty or spiteful to you? Do we bear a grudge against them, or be nasty and spiteful back? Do we forgive them? Even if they don’t say sorry?
And as they cleared up the rubble in the cathedral, they collected the old rusty medieval iron nails, and made them into a cross.
Then, when the war was over, they sent a ‘Cross of Nails’ as a token of reconciliation to the other cities that suffered a similar fate to that of Coventry, namely Hamburg, Colerne and Dresden. The ‘Community of the Cross of Nails’ now includes several hundred communities that seek to bring reconciliation.
Dresden. I am NOT going to talk about the morality of the destruction of the city in 1945 – passions run high on both sides. But I will mention that out of the smoking ruins, a new city was built. In fact, rebuilt, as the old buildings were pieced back together just how they were, making the city a World Heritage Site. But one building lay in ruins for fifty years. The beautiful cathedral, the Frauenkirche was left. You can just make it out in the centre of the photo – two towers of masonry with tall slender gothic windows, surrounded by a heap of rubble. But work started in 1994, and completed just over ten years later, re-using most of the original stones that had been kept.
That just goes to show that no matter how bad the destruction of buildings and cities, they can be repaired. But the damaged souls can also be restored.
Just as there is a Cross of Coventry Nails in Dresden, there is also a lovely bell in Coventry Cathedral, given by the people of Dresden, hung in pride of place, and rung daily before every service. Both are symbols of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness. And from that forgiveness springs new life, new growth.
Forgiving someone who has wronged you is tough, whether they have bombed your city, your cathedral, your home, or cheated on you, or lied about you, or stolen from you, or hurt you. It can be really hard. But Jesus requires it of us, for our own good. He stands with us, and knows how it feels. He suffered the worst pain and betrayal, and still managed to forgive whilst hanging in agony on the cross.
And he is with us. As we sang earlier, God is our strength and refuge, our present help in trouble. When we are feeling the grief and despair when things go wrong, God is our strength. Jesus is with us. When Jesus returns again, wars will cease. The tools of war will be destroyed. It will be all right in the end. And forgiving others, and being reconciled to them brings that day closer.