Remembrance: War and Peace – 12/11/23

Musical Prelude: Andante by Edward Elgar (played by Abby Lorimier and Andrew Robinson)

Opening Words: ‘We Gather to Remember’ by Nicole McKay

We gather to remember
Those who could not grow old
And those forced to grow old long before their time

We gather to mourn and grieve with one another
All of our losses: the people, the stories, the loved ones,
And the futures that could have been.

We gather to do the hard work
Of facing the difficult realities of our present and our past:
Where there is conflict, violence, war, and hatred.

We gather to hold space for silence
As we try to make meaning of our history
To help us work for peace and justice today.

We gather to rekindle our source of hope for our future
By recognizing in one another our shared humanity
As we join in a concerted commitment for a better tomorrow.

And we gather because we need community to do all of this holy work. (pause)

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words – by Nicole McKay – welcome all who have gathered this morning, for our Remembrance Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who have gathered here in-person at Essex Church and also to all who are joining us via Zoom from far and wide. For anyone who doesn’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall and I’m Minister with Kensington Unitarians.

This morning’s service will honour all those who have lost their lives in war – in all wars – we will take time this hour to name our solemn witness of all the devastation that war leaves in its wake. The human cost – the deaths, the injuries, the trauma which echoes down the generations – and all those other, perhaps more subtle, losses that are sustained in the midst of conflict and violence. So often on Remembrance Sunday we roll out those phrases – ‘lest we forget’ – ‘never again’ – and yet in our culture it seems that militarism is often glorified and the grim machinery of war grinds on regardless. So today we’ll reflect on war and peace through poems, prayers, hymns, and stories, and later in the service Patricia Brewerton will offer her personal reflections on remembrance. And the service will have a slightly different structure than usual today so we can observe two minutes’ silence at 11am.

Before we go any further let’s just take a moment to check in with ourselves. Are you really here? Has your soul caught up with your body? Do what you need to do to ground yourself in this moment. A readjustment of your position to ground and steady yourself. A few conscious breaths. Be here now.

Chalice Lighting: ‘To Illuminate the World We Seek’ by Elizabeth McMaster

Let’s light our chalice flame now, as we do each week. This simple ritual connects us in solidarity with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proud and historic progressive religious tradition of which we are a part.

(light chalice)

We light our flaming chalice
to illuminate the world we seek.
In the search for truth, may we be just;
in the search for justice, may we be loving;
and, in loving, may we find peace.

Hymn (on sheet): ‘Once Crimson Poppies Bloomed’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn is number on your hymn sheet, it’s a new one to me, but to a familiar tune: ‘Once Crimson Poppies Bloomed’. For those joining via Zoom the words will be up on screen. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer as we sing. And sing up as best you can.

Once crimson poppies bloomed
out in a foreign field,
each memory reminds
where brutal death was sealed.
The crimson petals flutter down,
still hatred forms a thorny crown.

For in this present time
we wait in vain for peace;
each generation cries,
each longing for release,
while war still plagues the human race
and families seek a hiding place.

How long will human life
suffer for human greed?
How long must race or pride,
wealth, nationhood or creed
be reasons justifying death
to suffocate a nation’s breath?

For everyone who dies
we share a quiet grief;
the pain of loss remains,
time rarely brings relief:
and so we will remember them
and heaven sound a loud amen.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve an opportunity now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle and say a few words about what it represents. This time we’re going to go to the people in the building first, and take all of those in one go, and then I’ll call on the people on Zoom to come forward.

So I invite some of you here in person to come and light a candle and then if you wish to tell us briefly who or what you light your candle for. Please do get up close to the microphone as that will help everyone hear (including the people at home). You can take the microphone out of the stand if it’s not at a good height and have it microphone pointing right at your mouth. And if you can’t get to the microphone give me a wave and I’ll bring it over to you. Thank you.

(in person candles)

And if that’s everyone in the room we’ll go over to the people on Zoom next – you might like to switch to gallery view at this stage – just unmute yourselves when you are ready and speak out – and we should be able to hear you and see you up on the big screen here in the church.

(zoom candles)

And I’m going to light one more candle, as we often do, to represent all those joys and concerns that we hold in our hearts this day, but which we don’t feel able to speak out loud. (light candle)

Time of Prayer & Reflection: based on words by Chris Goacher

Let’s take those joys and concerns into a short time of prayer. This prayer is based on some words by Chris Goacher. You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us. (pause)

Spirit of Life, God of All Love, in whom we live and move and have our being,
we turn our full attention to you, the light within and without,
as we tune in to the depths of this life, and the greater wisdom
to which – and through which – we are all intimately connected.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the
silence and stillness at the very centre of our being. (pause)

We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have
sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others;
but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop
and the actions taken in our name.

Bless those who mourn, and those whose lives are blighted
by such terrible memories, be they military or civilian.
Bless those who carry the scars of war with them
for the rest of their lives, and those who care for them.

Bless those whose know no place of safety right now,
as war and violence rage on, in so many places around the world.

May forgiveness be found, personally and nationally, that all can learn to live in peace.
May justice be sought, that the cycle of violence and oppression may be broken.

We acknowledge that death recognizes not the colour of uniform,
nor the age, race, religion, or gender of each victim.
That death and destruction comes because of our
collective human failures – our greed – our neglect – our indifference.
May we always remember the inherent worth and dignity of every – every – human being.

Let us dedicate ourselves to the greatest remembrance of all – that war should be no more.

For a future to be possible; May our prayers be heard. (pause)

And in a few moments of quietness now let us take a wider view.
Let us look back over the week just gone and take stock of it all.
And let us speak inwardly the deepest prayers of our hearts this day —
maybe something in our own life or the life of the world is weighing heavy on us –
maybe we are feeling full of gratitude, and feel moved to give thanks for our blessings –
let us each lift up whatever is on our heart this day, and ask for what we most need. (longer pause)

Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close, we offer up
our joys and concerns, our hopes and fears, our beauty and brokenness,
and we call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.

As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen

Hymn 191 (green): ‘To Worship Rightly’

Let’s sing again now. Our next hymn is number 191 in your green books. It’s an old favourite, and I think we’ve sung it quite recently, but the sentiment is so appropriate: ‘To Worship Rightly’. The words will be up on screen as usual. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

Now let us sing in loving celebration;
The holier worship, which our God may bless,
Restores the lost, binds up the spirit broken,
And feeds the widow and the parentless.
Fold to thy heart thy sister and thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other;
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of those whose holy work was doing good:
So shall the wide earth seem our daily temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangour
Of wild war-music o’er the earth shall cease;
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger,
And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.

Reading: ‘The End and the Beginning’ by Wisława Szymborska

I am going to share a poem, a piece on the impact of war, to take us into the two minutes of silence at 11am. This is by the Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska, it’s titled ‘The End and the Beginning’.

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Introducing Silence:

And as the clock moves towards 11am, the traditional time to stand in silent tribute to all those who have died or suffered in warfare, I invite you to stand now if you so wish. Our time of silence will be ended by the sound of a bell and an invitation to join in a responsive prayer of peace for the world.

Period of Silence and Stillness (2 minutes) – end with a bell

Responsive Prayer: ‘Prayer for the World’ by Amy Petrie Shaw

And I invite you to join in, if you wish, with this prayer for the world. The words are printed in your order of service but it’s a simple repeated refrain after each line: ‘we lift up our hearts’.

For all who die in war
We lift up our hearts

For all who live in suffering in the aftermath of violence
We lift up our hearts

For all who give their lives in smoke and flame
We lift up our hearts

For all who go on in honour of the dead
We lift up our hearts

For all who have served
We lift up our hearts

For our country and our world
We lift up our hearts

For a planet that will find peace
We lift up our hearts

For the young and the innocent
We lift up our hearts

For the weary and war torn
We lift up our hearts

For those who would pray
We lift up our hearts

For those too angry to cry
We lift up our hearts

For all of us, for the many names of God
We lift up our hearts

We lift up our hearts
Shanti, shalom, peace, sa laam. Amen.

Interlude: Romance by Elfrida Andree (played by Abby Lorimier and Andrew Robinson) (3 min)

Reading: ‘The Gift of Remembrance’ by George A. Tyger (adapted) (read by Antony)

This short reflection by George A. Tyger, a Unitarian Universalist minister, who serves as a military chaplain, begins with some famous words of remembrance written in 1940 by Archibald MacLeish:

“The young dead solders do not speak…
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.”

George Tyger continues with his own story of remembrance. He writes:

I met Scott’s father a year after he was killed. It was a pilgrimage for me. I drove a thousand miles, every moment wondering if he’d see me as a symbol of a system that had taken his son. When he and his wife met me in their front yard, Mike and I hugged tightly for too short an eternity.

As an Army Chaplain and therapist, I understand the spiritual, psychological, and physiological foundations of trauma. I can talk for hours about how the “body keeps the score;” about vagus nerve response; about the flight, fight, or freeze mechanism. I can reflect with you about the spiritual meaning of loss, grief, and suffering; how they fit in your life; and the how they can burden the Soul if held too tightly.

I understand all this, yet not a day goes by when something doesn’t bring to mind a young life now gone. Ghosts of what might have been are my everyday companions. I will not let them go, for I fear if I do that I will forget. I’m greeted when least expected with waves of unbidden grief. A tightness in the throat. Vision blurred a bit by welling tears. A little tremor in my hand. All things that remind me that I cannot—I will not—forget. How many children lost? How many parents grieve?

These memories, these ghosts, are necessary reminders of the futility of war and the desperate need for peace in our world. The memories, which come upon me not as thoughts but as bodily sensations, have deepened my compassion and steeled commitment to bringing peace to this suffering world.

I serve in the Army. I support the readiness of those who have fought the wars our civilian leaders call us to fight. I love the people I am called to serve, knowing full well the dreadful reality we will one day face again. How then can I speak of peace? This is the difficulty of a such a day of remembrance.

Remembrance Sunday is not a day to be celebrated. It is to be observed, scrutinized, and witnessed on behalf of the true witnesses of our human failure to love our neighbour as ourselves. They are ghosts now: haunting lives with the gift of remembrance, so that we will not forget their living—but even more, that the grief of remembering will create in us a yearning for peace that will stir us to action.

George Tyger closes his reflections with a few brief words of prayer: Gracious God, Living Spirit of Love, give to me compassion steeled with commitment, that I might become your peace given in loving sacrifice to our troubled and hurting world. Amen.

Hymn 226 (green): ‘Song of Peace’

Thanks Antony. Let’s sing again now. Our next hymn is another old favourite, it’s a beautiful hymn, number 226 in your green books, ‘Song of Peace’. The words will be up on screen as usual. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

This is my song, O God of all the nations
A song of peace for lands afar and mine;
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight, too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

Reflection: ‘On Remembrance’ by Patricia Brewerton

Amongst the early printed books in the British Library, books printed in the early part of the sixteenth century, are some “How to” books. Books devoted to teaching skills such as swimming or riding a horse for instance. There is also one on the Art of Memory which includes the very helpful advice not to go to bed with your shoes and socks on, advice I always follow.

These books were aimed at people, men I suppose, wishing to rise in society. And in a time before easy access to writing materials, memory was extremely important. There are many aspects to this word “memory” from just remembering to turn your phone to silent before the service, to remembering events and people from our past. Remembrance has the added meaning of remembering with honour. On this Remembrance Sunday I want to look at what we remember and, more importantly, how we remember.

Let’s first recall how the annual event of remembering began and what it remembered. At twelve minutes past five in the morning of the eleventh of November 1918 an armistice – or ceasefire – was signed which would bring to an end the horrendous war which, it is estimated, claimed over 15 million lives. Although the agreement was signed just after 5 am it was agreed that fighting would only cease some six hours later, at eleven o’clock, allowing sufficient time for two thousand more senseless deaths. It is, therefore, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month every year that we are asked to fall silent for two minutes to honour those members of the armed forces who have been killed in wars. It is on the Sunday following the eleventh that the pomp and ceremony around the cenotaph, and smaller gatherings around the many war memorials in villages and towns in this country, take place and when we pause for two minutes here in Essex Church.

The First World War which has inspired so many poems, films, and novels, was so horrific that the writer H.G. Wells called it “the war to end all wars. That foolery would end. It is the last war.” Tragically he was wrong and yesterday, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh-hour people were still dying in so many wars in so many places.

Some time ago I read a very moving essay by a Jewish Rabbi about remembering and memorials. He wrote that there was little use in remembering and honouring the dead unless we are prepared to learn the lessons from these remembrances. Sadly, history shows us that we do not learn these lessons, so is there something wrong with the way we remember, perhaps something wrong with some of our memorials?

There is one war memorial which I have come to know very well. I first encountered it during a conversation when someone, knowing I was going to stay in the village of La Couarde in France, asked if I had seen the war memorial there. At that point I hadn’t but it was clearly of interest to visitors to the island, a kind of tourist attraction. Since then, I have stood in front of it many times and taken friends to see it. I hope you can now see it now on the screen here.

I first thought that the bird lying sprawled dead in front of the memorial represented France and the horrors suffered by France in that war to end all wars. But I have since learned the story of the memorial which I would like to share with you.

It is set in a kind of park in the smartest part of the village. The grass here is always fresh and green as the park is tended almost daily. The land was given to the community by the master of the primary school which faces the green and who lived in the schoolhouse attached. And the memorial itself was the initiative of this man who had lost his only son in the war, one of thirty-six men from the village to die. It is situated at the end of an avenue of cypress trees leading from opposite the school gates. The largest part of the memorial is the wall made from a single block of stone before which the bird has fallen. A poem on the back of this wall, tells us that it symbolises a body of soldiers who by their courage and strength stopped the advance of the enemy. The fallen bird is the German eagle with its neck broken.

So, what I thought represented sorrow, represents something tougher to deal with – anger, revenge – an attempt to humiliate a former enemy. It’s easy to understand that anger, that desire for revenge, after the loss of so many lives from a small community but I sometimes wonder what that school master felt when every day he looked out on to that fallen eagle. He would have seen it every time he opened the door to let the children in and out of school, every morning when he looked out of his bedroom window. He would have watched as it was dismantled when the village was occupied during the second world war. And he would have been there when it was retrieved from under a pile of wood in the church and put back in its place where he could see it every day.. Did the memorial ease his grief, did it soothe his anger or just remind him of his pain each time he looked at it.

When we remember we bring the past back into the present and relive the joys or sorrows of that time. I don’t expect any of us have monuments to our past, but I am sure we all have mementos of people, places or times which bring our past back to us. I recently read about a journalist in Gaza who was forced to leave the home her father had built, to move to the south. She took with her amongst her passport, papers, food and a few clothes, several green leaves from the tree in the courtyard – a bitter, sweet reminder of home until she could return. I am sure we all have mementoes like these. On the windowsill in my study there is the decaying remains of a large black beetle. It is now more brown than black and one of its legs has fallen off. It certainly is not a thing of beauty. I found it one day when standing at a level crossing holding my little grandson’s hand watching for trains. We saw a large shiny black beetle lying dead at our feet, and we picked it up and took it home and now it takes me back some eight years to the time when it was okay for Arthur to hold grandma’s hand. When we gaze on these mementos there is sometimes sadness but it is mixed in with love and joy.

But we all have memories which make us really miserable, memories that make us angry as well as sad. Maybe these are memories of times when we have been made to feel small, maybe times when our feelings have been badly hurt in some way. It is tempting to hold on to these memories, to construct our own fallen eagles which we gaze at, working out how we can get back at whomever has hurt us. I know I am sometimes guilty of this.

We have no say in how our leaders chose to remember past conflicts and I am sure names will keep being added to our war memorials as they fail to learn the lessons those memorials could teach. But perhaps if we could find ways to melt the bronze fallen eagles we carry in our own hearts we would make peace in our own lives. Our world will never be at peace and unafraid until we all learn to let go of our own anger and hurt. It would be lovely to think that we the ordinary people could show our world leaders how to turn swords into ploughshares so that nations would make war no more.

Chant (on sheet): ‘Vine and Fig Tree’

Time for our last hymn, it’s on your hymn sheets, ‘Vine and Fig Tree’. It’s a simple chant which we can repeat again and again until we’ve had enough! Once we’ve sung it a few times in full and everyone has grasped the tune it’s possible to break out into a round if you’re feeling confident. Just keep going, until Jane comes up to the lectern, when we can gently bring it to a close by repeating the last line. Perhaps Andrew can play the tune through once, for those who don’t know it, before we start to sing.

And ev’ry one ‘neath a vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid.
And ev’ry one ‘neath a vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid.
And into ploughshares turn their swords,
Nations shall learn war no more.
And into ploughshares turn their swords,
Nations shall learn war no more.

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions

Thanks to Ramona for tech-hosting. Thanks to Charlotte for welcoming everyone online. Thanks to Patricia for her reflection and to Antony for reading. Thanks to Abby and Andrew for lovely music as ever. Thanks to David for doing coffee and Juliet for greeting. For those of you who are at the church in-person – please do stay for a cuppa and cake after the service – lemon cake this week for a change with my best attempt at Mr Kipling style fancy icing – it’s served in the hall next door. If you’re joining online hang on after for a chat with Charlotte.

We have various small group activities during the week. Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, takes place twice a week online. It’s a great way to get to know people more deeply. Send me an email if you want to sign up for Sunday or Friday. This week’s theme is ‘Expertise’.

Next Sunday, Sarah Tinker will be leading our service. on ‘St Cecelia and Music’s Many Gifts’.

We’ve got various save-the-dates to mention – especially in relation to Christmas events – I put a flyer on everyone’s chair in the church today but key information is also in the Friday email – our main carol service will be on Sunday 17th December and that’ll be followed by a potluck lunch. If any of your friends and family might enjoy such a festive occasion please do invite them along. Patricia is making a list of offerings for the potluck lunch so let her know what you plan to bring and share. And we also have a candlelit Christmas service at 5pm on 24th and that’s always quite a magical evening.

And you may have noticed that we’re slowly updating and reinstating all our leaflets and posters around the building. I’d encourage you to take them and share them with anyone who might be interested in Heart and Soul, or the Community Singing group, or any of the other things we do. You’ll see more things (including our community photo-board) appearing in the coming weeks.

Details of all our various activities are printed on the back of the order of service, for you to take away, and also in the Friday email. Please do sign up for the mailing list if you haven’t already. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch, look out for each other, and do what you can to nurture supportive connections.

I think that’s everything. Just time for our closing words and closing music now.

Benediction: based on words by Cliff Reed and Satish Kumar

We have shared this hour of worship,
As we share our membership of this
Living earth and her human family.

As we part, let us remember the ties
That hold us close, the divine unity in
Which we exist, and the path of loving
Faith that leads us from death to life.

And in that spirit let us conclude
with the Universal prayer for peace:

Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth;
lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust;
lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe. Amen.

Closing Music: Some Day by Kathy Blackwell (played by Abby Lorimier and Andrew Robinson)

Jane Blackall and Patricia Brewerton

12th November 2023