This summer marks the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, one of the costliest conflicts in history. The reasons for the outbreak of war are complex and still subject to debate after all these years, but its impact remains strong. The losses were felt in almost every town and village in the UK and throughout what was then the British Empire – over 1,117,000 Commonwealth Service men and women were killed and every community erected a memorial, most of which can still be seen today. Overall it is estimated that about ten million military personnel and almost seven million civilians were killed around the world.
Sons, husbands, brothers had their lives taken away and their loss was felt by more than their generation. On our recent family trip to Ypres the Last Post ceremony, held every night at 8pm at the Menin Gate, saw a gathering of several hundred people from around the world all paying their respects. Like us, most visitors to the area tried to visit Langemark, the German cemetery, as well as those of the French, Belgian and Commonwealth.
We can only imagine the horror of the war, the mud, the fear, the bravery, the lice, the noise – it is reported that the sound of the Battle of Messines (June 1917) was heard by Lloyd-George in Downing Street, such was its intensity.
Sadly this War to End All Wars did nothing of the sort. Wars continue all around the world today, some of which feature in our news some of which do not. Peace building is an active pursuit and part of the challenge of our commemorations of World War One is to play our part in actively building bridges between communities today and praying for others who do so too. Our reflection should not be confined simply to the past.
So as we commemorate the First World War may the poppies of peace challenge us to be vigilant and active and prayerful about the world around us today too. May part of the legacy of our commemorations be that we follow the words of the psalmist:
The General Assembly of the United Reformed Church gathers in St David’s Hall Cardiff 3rd to 6th July 2014. Because of economic constraints upon us all General Assembly now only meets bi-annually so it promises to be a very busy time. As well as debating the 28 Resolutions on a wide range of issues, there are Reports to receive and key appointments to be made – but threading through the proceedings, our listening, our structured debates, our informal conversations and our worship is the chance to drink more deeply of all that God has to offer.
The theme of Drinking Deeply was prompted by a story from Australia. In the outback ranchers require vast tracts of land to support their herds of cattle. Rather than fencing their grazing land they simply drill a deep well in the centre of their tracts. The cattle know they will live if they stay near the well; they do not wander far afield. There is no need for fences to keep them in and others out. The deep well of cool, clear water is enough. Jesus is our deep well, a source of living water. We come to be strengthened for the journey ahead.
If you have access to the internet the General Assembly papers can be accessed here. Every member and friend of the United Reformed Church is also invited to pray for those of us gathering in Cardiff, that we will hear the voice of God speaking and will have the wisdom to listen to it.