History - St. Thomas More

Civic Service: Remembrance 2006


It is always difficult to know what to say on Remembrance Day, especially for those of us who were born since the end of World War 2, and nowadays that is most of us. We have no memory of the two great wars of the 20th Century, and we are anxious to say nothing that might hurt those who lived through the war. We have read so much, and have seen so much on TV and in the cinema, that sometimes we can imagine that we were there, but we were not!

We need to understand that for many people here today there is a tremendous sadness as they think of so many of their friends and comrades who did not come back from the war. Walk round the Cemetery here in Seaford, and visit the graves of the Canadian forces buried here. Notice the ages on the grave stones: 22, 19, 27 and so on. Real men and women gave their lives for us and for the freedom we enjoy. They were people of flesh and blood, and they are still deeply mourned by those who knew and loved them.

What about us who were not there? What does all this mean for us? It is, or it ought to be a moment to pause, and think seriously about the world we have inherited from them, and must pass on to others. Are we worthy of them, and their sacrifice? It is significant that this public act of remembrance begins at the War Memorial but concludes with a Church service. It would seem that a number of people today are uneasy about that. They call for a complete separation of Church and State, as there is in France. Religion, they argue, should be a strictly private matter, practised by those who must, but it should remain something between consenting adults, and in private. It should have nothing to do with public life. But that is not our tradition in this country.

Over the years the Christian Churches have contributed a great deal to creating the society we have today. There has always been a strong Christian presence in education and in medicine. So many of our schools were Christian foundations, and today Church schools have a well-deserved reputation for excellence. Indeed they are often pioneers in the field of education. How many of our hospitals were originally Christian foundations? Their very names often reflect that tradition.

Any attempt to understand the culture of this country and its' traditions will fail unless there is an appreciation of our Christian past. The great cathedrals and parish churches all over England speak of a living faith that still inspires millions of people. Our literature and our very language have been inspired by King James Bible and by the Book of Common Prayer. Britain today welcomes men and women from different backgrounds and cultures. Over the centuries we have been enriched as a nation in this way. There is a long and distinguished Jewish tradition here. In recent years we have welcomed Hindus and Moslems along with others of different faiths.

It is significant that during the last war men and women of different faiths and none fought and died for a society that recognises the rights of each of us to live in freedom and to practice our faith. Those who want to reduce religion to a private matter divorced entirely from public life are not apostles of tolerance, but rather the opposite. It is not, for the most part, devout Moslems who are offended by the Christmas crib in the Market place, but those who are opposed to all religion. It is part of our tradition that believers and non-believers alike should be free to speak their minds, and to celebrate their beliefs in public. As Christians we should not seek for a special place or for special privileges in society.But we can and do claim the right to contribute to the life of the nation.

Our Society today has lost its' way, lost its' sense of direction. When we speak, as Christians, about the values that should underpin our society, we will find, again and again that what we want to say will find an echo among those of other faiths and none.

As we remember and give thanks for the heroism and the bravery of those who fought for our freedom in war, we must not lose our nerve in the face of those who want to impose their own secular values on our society. The Gospel of Christ is as relevant today as ever. If we are to honour the memory of those who died for us, we must be prepared to witness to the truth that comes from God, and do our part, along with others of different faiths and none, to build a better world for the generations yet to come.