Back to main SERMON list >>

3rd August 2014 - Sunday Evening - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs
Introductory Address - Vigil Service

We are meeting this evening to remember the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1 and those individuals from this community who went away to war. Some came home again, some did not...

There will be many events over the next four years, but what will we be remembering? There are plenty of different perspectives, and lots of emotion too.

I'd like to suggest that instead of spending our time discussing whether it was a just war, or evaluating the strategy and tactics, that we agree that we are commemorating a tragedy. Wars may or may not be necessary, but they are always tragic. Tragedy is a complicated word - it means more than 'awful' or 'wrong'. There's space within tragedy for heroism. War is tragic because it would always be better for it not to happen - but in times of war people also perform deeds of bravery they would not have imagined possible.

The human cost of World War One was horrendous. About 17 million people died - about 10 million of them were military personnel. Casualties were of every race and religion, and from every continent - among so many others, there are about 2000 Chinese buried in WW1 cemeteries in France. About 900,000 British personnel died;

The political consequences were huge: by the end of the war the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires had collapsed, and Germany was in a state of revolution. Russia would soon follow.

In these islands, the lines were being drawn which would lead to the partition of Ireland. The tyrannies of Stalin and Hitler arose out of this chaos. On a much smaller scale, so did the troubles which caused so much suffering in Northern Ireland and beyond. The war was a tragedy not just because of what happened in those four years, but because it opened the door to further, and even greater disasters to come.

So how do we remember a tragedy like this? Not by standing apart - either in praise or in blame. If you've ever seen one of Shakespeare's tragedies, you will know that the play invites you to experience the emotions, to share the dilemmas of the principal characters. Really good TV dramas do exactly the same. By being drawn in, we understand the complexity of what's going on from the inside. From our hundred years' distance, we now have the chance to understand the First World War, and at the same time to understand ourselves a bit better too. And as we look around at a world that has so obviously failed to learn the lessons of War, so too we ask for God's forgiveness for all our shortcomings, our lack of vision and understanding for all that we hold in common.

This service is a mixture of the sacred and the secular; the civic and the religious. It is also an occasion when we can give thanks for the work of Peter Leigh and those interested in local history, who have contributed to our displays here in church, Peter has also prepared an outstanding record of all those who took part in both the first and second world wars, from this community. We thank him, and dedicate this work in the name of the One who came, who died and rose again for us - the Prince of Peace.