A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
St Stephen’s Church, Cheltenham, 2011, Remembrance Sunday
Strange isn’t it that today is named Remembrance Sunday, because for us, as Christians, every Sunday is remembrance Sunday – the day when we remember Jesus resurrection from the dead. But we all know about Remembrance Sunday, we all know what we are doing when we come here as we are doing this morning, but how do we explain this to the younger generation, the school children?
First of all we must help them to understand that we are not here to remember and glorify past wars and battles. We are not here to give undeserved prominence to conflict, to struggles and to killing. We are not here to boast about our power over other peoples and nations, resulting in the loss of millions of lives- lives of men , women and children, nor to rejoice in the maiming and scarring and blinding of men and women some so young that they were hardly out of school.
So why are we here? Is it something that we do because it is part of our cultural calendar in the same way that May Day or Harvest Festival or Guy Fawkes Day are?
When challenged with questions such as these we must be firm in making it clearly understood that we are here to remember countless men and women who responded to a call to combat evil, and in so doing make the world a better place where peace, love and happiness could dwell in harmony. Those men and women were like our forefather Abraham, people of hope, hope for their families, hope for their country and hope for us,- their future.
But their battle wasn’t just a battle against an oppressor – their battle was a personal one against human weakness, tiredness, cold, hunger, anxiety, fear, home-sickness, separation from loved ones, uncertainty about the future, and heartbreak.
Their battle was against the power seekers, the cruel, the grabbing and the inhuman.
Their battle was one of perseverance against the forces of nature, against rain and cold and damp, mud, darkness, heat, wind, cold and frost.
And what did they hope to receive in return? Freedom, freedom and hope, freedom for us to be here this morning because we want to be not because we are made to be here; hope that their efforts would make those in power see the futility of war and the needless destruction that flies in the face of love and respect for humanity. Their hope was the same hope expressed in our first reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah,
‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’
We are here today to remember those who died in pursuit of freedom, those who risked and suffered pain, torture, nightmares and even death because the believed that in so doing they would drive far away the forces of evil and make the world a better place for those whom they loved and those who would follow after in future generations.
We are here to remember and to commit ourselves to struggle in whatever way our ability allows us, to struggle for that peace among nations that respect for human life , for which they died. Sadly we are not there yet, as current struggles in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East , and parts of Africa still bear witness, witness to the courage, hope and self sacrifice that the men and women of our day still offer so freely. So what greater tribute can we pay to those whom we remember today, than to remember them and the sacrifices they made; to give thanks to God for such men and women who gave their lives in the pursuit of love and respect and equality between nations between individuals of whatever creed, race or culture. When we later repeat the words We will remember, let us do so with determination and commitment to continue the cause for which so many paid with their lives, their limbs , their sight and their minds. Their sacrifice will be rewarded only when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
I’d like to finish with a poem found written anonymously on the wall of a solitary confinement cell in one of the German POW camps at the end of the WWII.
‘Its easy to be nice boys, when everything’s OK.
It’s easy to be cheerful when you’re having things your way.
But can you hold your head up and take it on the chin
When your heart is breaking and you feel like giving in?
It was easy back in England among the friends and folks.
But now we miss the friendly hand, the joys, the songs, the jokes.
The road ahead is stormy, and unless you’re strong in mind,
You’ll find it isn’t long before you’re dragging far behind.
You’ve got to climb the hill boys, it’s no use turning back.
There’s only one way home boys, and its off the beaten track.
Remember that you’re English, and when you reach the crest,
You’ll see a valley cool and green, our country at its best.
You know there is a saying that sunshine follows rain.
And sure enough you’ll realise that joy will follow; pain.
Let courage be your password, make fortitude your guide.
And then, instead of grousing, just remember those who died.’