[Jesus continued,] ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ (Matthew 5.43-45, NRSV)
Today I, like many others here in the UK, am wearing a poppy. Mine is red, while some people’s are white, and some wear one of each. All of us who wear them wear them in remembrance of those who have died in war and conflict. For some, it seems from what I have read around me over the last few days, this period is about remembering those who fought for our country, our freedoms. That is their right and choice to use it for that purpose – and before anyone takes me wrongly I should say that remembering those who have died, or who have and continue to put their life on the line, as members of UK armed forces is part of what I do today too, since I have friends who have served and do serve in the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF, including an Army Chaplain who was injured by enemy fire on the last day of a tour of duty in Iraq.
But such remembrance is not all I do. I do not believe it is all that any person who puts their faith in Christ and tries to follow him should do on this day. Today, for me, as I believe it should be for all Christians, is a day to remember all those who have died as a result of war. Not just the innocent, not just those of this nation and its allies, but all, including the German machine-gunners, the Japanese camp commanders, and the Taliban snipers. Whether we are a pacifist or a believer in Just War, and Christians legitimately take differing views, we must never forget that war and conflict are a tragedy, and that all who die because of them are a tragic loss of human life. And because we are called to love not just our neighbour but our enemy we must be committed to remember not just our own dead, but the dead of our enemy as well, to recognise and weep for the tragic loss on all sides. Mrs Nomad and I were on holiday in Somerset last summer when the funeral was held at Wells Cathedral for the “Last Living Tommy”, Harry Patch. Harry was the last surviving person to have served in the British Army during the Great War, the last man to have experienced in person the horrors and the comradeship of the trenches. At his service his honour guard included current soldiers of the British, French, Belgian and German armies – he asked specifically for such a presence, for he knew from experience that the loss inflicted by war is a tragedy for all involved, on all sides.
If nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.38-39) than neither should it be able to stop our love. We can love our enemy in many ways. One is to ensure that today, of all days, we remember their losses as well as ours. If God loves even those who are evil so much as to give them sun and rain, then who are we, who claim to follow His Son, our saviour, not to show at least the love required to remember our enemies’ loss as well as our own.
At this time, in this place, we are called to remember those who have died in times and places of war:
those who willingly fought, those who fought despite their doubts, and those who were forced to fight;
those who were labelled heroes, and those who were labelled cowards;
those who did not fight but who served alongside the soldier, the sailor, the aircrew – the nurses, the doctors, the chaplains, the clerks;
those who did not fight and yet still died – in homes, in workplaces, in prisons of many kinds.
those known personally to us, and those whose names remain unknown to all but God.
At this time, in this place, we are called to remember.