Stories of Sacrifice

Sermon for Remembrance Day 2020 by Mother Katie.

I always wear my poppy with pride.

The poppy reminds us that freedom was not possible without a battle; that war is very costly and that therefore we need to be both grateful and responsible in how we use our freedom.

When I look at poppies I am reminded of the hero and the story of the battle; the one who gives his or her life for others; of freedom and liberation; of one who can obey orders, protect the weak and keep peace – one who is not afraid of death but is willing to make sacrifices for the lives of others.

And so when I look at the poppies this year – I think those we remember today – our troops who gave their lives for us – have much to teach us about how to live today in this current battle of our time against a global pandemic. For theirs is a story of sacrifice.

The stories of priests on the frontline in the first World War particularly move me – because they didn’t have to be there – they could have remained in the comfort of their churches saying their prayers and offering mass – they had all the benefits of being an officer – and they were even commanded to stay back – and yet they often chose to bravely share the discomfort of the troops. With no regard for their own privilege they were prepared to make the same sacrifices as others.

My favourite story from WW1 about this is involves two soldiers new to the battlefields – and it includes a minor swear word so close your ears now if that offends – but this is a trench story and this is the language of the trench.
So the soldiers arriving at the frontline walk down a trench – you can imagine the fear and discomfort of that walk – this is so far from normal it is terrifying – and in this very different world they came across a post with a makeshift board on it saying The Vicarage.

“One of them said to his mate ‘Look – the bloody vicarage’ and Studdert Kennedy – known as Woodbine Willie – poked his head out and said ‘And here’s the bloody vicar’.”

He got the name by greeting all his men with a copy of the Bible and a packet of fags. In a world that was terrifying in its challenges – Woodbine Willie brought the comfort of normal to where the men were. He moved the vicarage and the altar to where people were – in the trenches.

And I am so inspired by these stories – of the priests who encamp with their people – prophetically reminding us that God has always chosen to pitch his tent with us – even in the hardest times. That it makes me ask – what does it mean for the church to encamp with people in these hardest times today?

Well, personally I think it means when the country is being asked to stay at home as much as possible then we stay at home as much as possible too. We don’t plead a special cause for excusing ourselves from the hard sacrifice – we make it willingly because in words that Woodbine Willy might use – we bloody love our people – all of them and especially the most vulnerable – and so we will go where they have to go – and we will make makeshift altars on kitchen tables and sing songs in our sheds and reclaim our hearts and homes as holy places – just as sacred as our buildings.

But I know for some that the building is comforting – it is the place of home in our faith – which is why I’ve brought you the service from church today (through Facebook) because I know it means so much for some of you to see it – like bringing postcards of home to the front.

But we are keeping our doors shut on Sunday to say we are remembrance people – who are using this time to remember and pray for those who have least – we are those who chose not to forget that others made far greater sacrifices for us – and so we too willingly chose to sacrifice our good for the good of others. We willingly play our small part in fighting to end this virus by observing lockdown so that we ALL might have their freedom again.

Faith is much bigger than a building. Desmond Tutu said that as Christians our only job is to stay plugged in to God – all the rest – all the energy, all the light, all the love we need for the world – will just flow through us – if we stay plugged in – if we abide in him.

So that is what we are going to try and do together over the next month – our services will continue online and I am looking at other ways too for us to remember each other too – to stay plugged in to God and faith – to community and each other. Leaving no one alone.

Starting with Coffee and Compline tonight at 5pm – this will be via Zoom – if you want the link message me – and it is an open invitation to everyone – you don’t have to be a regular to join. We would love to see you.

I know for some of you it is important to be here physically too – and I understand that. I think one of the worst things about the First World War was those at the front were forced to stay there even when they really couldn’t cope with it – we all need a break sometimes – and so on Wednesdays 10-12 we will open for private prayer. And if you need the church open at a different time – or are worried about meeting others but would appreciate time alone in church contact me and I will arrange for you to privately pray here. If you ever need someone to chat to in lockdown – call me – and you don’t need a big reason it can just be that it would be nice to hear another voice that day.

And in this way I think we remember those who died in past conflicts in the most meaningful way this year – if we care for one another and protect each other through this next bit of our own battle.

Church at its best has always been about the Kingdom – and that doesn’t need a church building – Jesus and his disciples never had one after all. Church is wherever God is worshipped – whenever the least are cared for and protected – whenever we pray and read scripture and seek to follow Christ – that is when the Kingdom comes and is amongst us and within us. Because Church is first and foremost the people – that is why it is such a treasure – and that is why we remember people today – because people are the most precious thing to God – and so when lives are lost in any battle we must mourn and remember and try to do everything we can to prevent further loss. So let’s care for each other well and love and serve our country.