I call out in my anguish
and God answers me:
Save me, Lord, from schemers,
from tongues that speak lies.…
…Why must I wander in Meshech,
Why stay among the tents of Kedar,
living so long with the violent?
I call for peace,
they speak of war. — Psalm 120.1–2, 5–7 (ICEL)
One hundred years ago, the world was a different place. A war had been fought; they called it the Great War. The war to end all wars.
Sadly, we know it as World War One, because only twenty one years later, World War Two began.
Will there be a World War Three?
We are no longer able to speak of a war to end all war. There are wars still, and political leaders still make belligerent speeches.
So, what are we doing today?
We are not making great speeches about making the world safe for democracy, neither are we being being patriotic.
We are not trying to inspire young men and women to join up.
We are not glorifying and romanticising the sacrifices made by men and women in World War 1; and we are not minimising the horror of trench warfare.
We are not avoiding the fact that they came home with the scars of PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder, hardly understood at all a hundred years ago. They dismissed PTSD as ‘shell shock’ and shot any deserters.
People at home truly didn’t understand the horrific nature of World War 1. Here are some of the actual questions asked of returning soldiers, recorded in 1918 in the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) magazine, Aussie:
You’re looking fine, old chap. I suppose if war started again you’d be anxious to have another go at them?
I suppose you delighted in splashing about in the water in the trenches?
Wasn’t it delightfully lovely living in those dear little dugouts?
So, if we’re not doing any of those things, what are we doing?
We are simply remembering those who went and remained, those who went and came back, and those who waited at home. We are holding them in our memory.
We remember those who lie in France and Belgium, some of them unknown to this day. Young men who had a life to look forward to. Young women who went out in the Nursing Corps to tend the wounded.
We remember those who came back, those with visible injuries of whom Eric Bogle sings in And the Band played Waltzing Matilda; and those whose wounds are of the mind and the spirit, the ones invoked in Redgum’s song I was only nineteen.
We remember those who stayed home. Mothers and fathers whose sons or daughters didn’t return. Towns whose economic life suffered because of the loss of a generation.
Some years ago now, I met two sisters who had never married. They lived together, they served the church and I liked them very much. I asked them once why neither of them had married. They told me that after World War 2, some of the men in the town they grew up in didn’t return. The best-looking girls were the ones they married. My lovely friends were left to one side. They hadn’t chosen the single state; the war had pushed it upon them.
How different would their lives have been if they had lived through a time of peace?
General Douglas MacArthur, whose wartime headquarters was here in Brisbane during World War 2, said
The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 that we spoke of earlier shows that the ordinary soldier wanted peace, he wanted to go home and back to his family and job.
Soon at Christmas, we’ll hear the song of the angels:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those
whom he favours!
That’s our song too. But we can only sing it while still remembering those for whom peace was only a distant dream.
The other thing we proclaim at Christmas—and across the whole year—is the Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace.
We honour the dead in war, soldiers and civilians, by working for peace with justice, and praying to that end. We honour them by saying War never again! as well as saying Lest we forget. Amen.
Preached at West End Uniting Church, 11 November 2018