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Remembrance Sunday: Human choices and God's promises

Mark Woods reflects on the writing on the walls of our memorials.

A few years ago I went to Ypres in Belgium, where some of the fiercest fighting took place during the First World War. From the outskirts of the town you can look up a gentle slope towards the village of Passchendaele. The fields are farmland now, but in 1917 they were the scene of indescribable horror. Among other things, I wanted to see the landscape where my grandfather had fought. Before the war he was a member of his local Officer Training Corps, but his parents knew that officers were being killed in disproportionately high numbers and insisted he join as a private. He survived, and so I am writing these words.

At Ypres stands the enormous Menin Gate, inscribed with the names of around 55,000 British and Allied soldiers. They are not just the ones who died; they are the ones who died and whose bodies, submerged in the Flanders mud or blown to pieces, were never found. The Last Post is still blown there every night in their memory.

More recently, I visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It too has stone walls inscribed with the names of British soldiers killed in the wars our country has fought since the Second World War. Seeing them is very moving.

What really strikes home, though, is not the panels of Portland stone covered with beautifully chiselled names, but the ones that have been left blank. The builders have left space for future victims.

It's impossible to stand there and not think about choices. The past is the past, but the future has yet to be written. More often than we might imagine, nations ­have the power to choose between war and peace.

Genesis 4.7 says, ‘But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’ God is speaking to Cain, who will murder his brother. When the nations of the world fail to rule over their sinful passions, the services of the stonemason are required again.

Christians are deeply aware that we live in a fallen world, in which wrong choices undo good intentions. But in our two minutes of silence on Remembrance Sunday we will not just remember the past, but look forward in hope to the day when,

‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war any more.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig-tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.’

(Micah 4.3–4, NIV)


Author: Mark Woods, 12 November 2021

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