10 November 2013

Remembrance Day

warTonight, I am thinking about two texts. The first is Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Recessional’, which, as the minister of our congregation pointed out today, is generally assumed to be about something that it isn’t about. Its refrain is ‘Lest we forget’. Lest we forget what?

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Amen.

Lest we forget humility and contrition before the Lord who gives all nations and empires their dominion and holds them to account. Kipling fears for the British – that trust in God for security is being overwhelmed by trust in armed forces; that humility and contrition are being replaced by proud boasting. The knowledge of the fleeting nature of power, the sense of accountability to the Lord – these are being lost.

The second text is a bit older and also frequently misunderstood. It gives a much-needed perspective as we remember those who have lost their lives or a part of their souls in the (sometimes necessary) horror of war.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;

He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.
"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth"
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

The psalm (Ps 46) reminds us of the evil of war – and God’s intention to remove it from the earth through the reign of the Prince of Peace. He smashes the tanks, breaks the assault rifles in two and burns the strike aircraft with fire. The call to ‘Be still (or cease striving) and know that I am God’ is not a call to anxious Christians struggling with the busy-ness of middle class, professional lives. It is God’s Calling of the Nations to Account. ‘Be Still! Cease War! Know that I am God.’ It is God’s call to those drunk with power: Do Not Forget!