Today is Remembrance Sunday in England when communites gather for services around war memorials in the centres of their towns and villages. At 11.00 a.m. we commemorate all who died in wars since 1914-1918 with two minutes' silence. It's a sombre day filled with sadness, especially in the light of continuing war and tragic deaths of young people.
Actually, in a town called Wantage not far from where I we are staying in Wallingford, the town war memorial records the names of two of my great uncles who died in the first world war, both very young men. My father took me to see their names a few years ago, and told me of their bravery. 1 out of every 10 men perished in that war. Hardly any family escaped loss.
I think the continuing harrowing war in Afghanistan means far more people are taking part in remembrance than I recall from the 1990's. So twice Carol and I have stood silently. On November 11th. at 11.00 am we were among the hundreds around the town square. Traffic was stopped. Shops ceased trading. Conversations halted. Young and old stayed motionless. Today, Sunday, a much larger crowd gathered with all the dignitaries, the armed forces and youth movements (such as the scouts) to sing hymns, say prayers and hear the names of every single service man killed in the wars from this one town of Wallingford. It was a long list. John 15:9-13 was read too: "Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends." Of course, Jesus was mentioned several times in hymn and prayers. His own self-giving sacrifice makes the greatest possible connection with today, and through him alone we have resurrection hope.
I said to a friend: "Look at this large crowd singing and praying. We hear so much about the new atheists and the tide of hostility against Christianity, but just look at how the whole community wants to remember in a Christian service." Of course, many different levels of understanding and commitment were present, but so too was an awareness that when it comes to the deepest life and death issues the Christian faith offers serious comfort and hope. Very serious.