With the passing of the years the wearing of a poppy at this
time of year has become almost absolute. Public figures are criticised
if they appear lacking the 'must-have' accessory from mid October.
Politicians are accused of photo-shopping poppies onto their
This year even one of our local Riding Schools wanted to be involved
with selling poppies and supporting the Royal British Legion
- as we do ourselves here this morning. And I salute the work
of the RBL and I am - mainly - pleased that poppies are everywhere
- in all our schools. Sported by all nationalities, festooning
town clocks and war memorials and of course, churches.
I get a bit more uncomfortable
when they are worn as almost as fashion accessories - and you
might say with reason that I am as guilty as anyone of this as
I wear my poppy earrings this morning. And maybe it doesn't matter
- the end justifies the means and it really matters that we support
our armed forces, and especially those who return from theatres
of war suffering the consequences of armed conflict - both physical
and increasingly mental and emotional. But what does the Poppy
actually stand for? I started to wonder and came up with some
of the following suggestions...
P is for power; parliament; parachute; politics
/ polity; prejudice; Passion
O is for ordinance - both written and the armoured
kind; operations - those flown and those performed on injured
bodies; oil, orders (to be followed); occupation - control of
a country by a foreign military power; old - and they who shall
not grow to be so..., obligation;
P is for prayer; Peace - peace-talks and peace
makers; paradox; people - people displaced and desperate, searching
for refuge in a callous world; Padre, pilot, pluck, parents -
waiting for their sons and daughters to return...
P is also the chemical symbol for , phosphorous
- which is a component of horrible weapons; parade ; private
- the lowest rank in the British Army; prisoner of war; pain
Y is the symbol of an unknown or variable number
or thing; for Why? Why must there be wars and rumours of war?
Questions and uncertainty; year(s); Yahweh; you who bear a responsibility
We approach Remembrance Sunday
with ambivalent feelings. No right-minded person enjoys war;
we all know the cost in lives, devastated cities, ruined landscapes
and grief. We know about "collateral damage", the indiscriminate
slaughter, the unintended victims, the losses brought about by
error. News bulletins bring us word of the chaos, privation and
disease that come in the wake of war, and we see how, from the
ravaged lands, spill the wounded, the dispossessed, the fearful
and the furious. This year of all years we have become aware
of the fearful and the furious....
None of us wants to glorify
strife within or between nations. And yet there are the men and
women whom we send to fight, and who go in our name.
Some believe war is totally
wrong, a betrayal of the God of love, unthinkable for Christians.
Others consider that there are circumstances in which going to
war is fully justified.
Because we humans have not
learnt to live without strife; because we do not know whether
war multiplies evil, or if evil would reign supreme if no resistance
were offered; because we have the wisdom neither to resist threats
without violence, nor to settle disputes with peace, sometimes
we fight. Our motives are complex; sometimes our wars seem righteous,
fought to overcome a legitimate enemy, sometimes war is waged
through error and misjudgement- even falsehood, sometimes it
is begun through pride or anger.
One thing is certain, though.
For as long as soldiers fight in our name, for as long as they
give their lives, for as long as they return wounded, for as
long as their families grieve, we must honour them for their
sacrifice, support them in their need, and comfort them in their
suffering. We must never glorify war, nor disregard the cost.
But in turning from war and all its evils, may we not turn from
those whom we send to fight, nor cease to value the fragile peace
that they have won.
One other thing is certain.
War is not to be a lasting feature of human life. At the end
of time, God will provide for the healing of the nations, and
the Lord who is "Prince of Peace" will be our light.
(Revelation 22 v 1-5, Isaiah 9 v 6). Until then, we must value
those who risk their lives in war on our behalf.
"In Flanders fields, the
Between the crosses, row on row"
How could we forget?