Remembrance Sunday 2018 falls on the exact anniversary of the Armistice 100 years ago. The stuttering rifles and shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells at last fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918. The silence came too late for millions of the doomed youth of Europe.
It is right for the church and nation to pause with respect and remember in humility the sacrifice of past generations. The Great War could not rid Europe of tension. The sounds of invasion and conflict resumed in 1939 bringing incalculable suffering, destruction and loss of life. The World Wars, the second being still just about in living memory, confront us with both the best and the worst of our human character. These conflicts must never be forgotten.
War is always caused by evil and our collective turning away from God. We will quickly lose our humanity and reason when we lose peace and imagine war is the best solution to our problems. This Sunday the names of 134,712 Scottish men and women who died in the Great War will be projected onto the walls of our Parliament in Edinburgh. They include the names of fallen soldiers and sailors, civilian merchant marine, nurses, doctors and members of the clergy. Half a million Scots enlisted. Of these, over a quarter perished. It is no surprise to find memorials to their sacrifice listing the names of the dead in almost every village, community hall and in many schools around Scotland. At the lowest estimate the First World War accounted for the deaths of 9 million combatants and 6 million civilians.
How should we remember them? The official war artist Paul Nash depicted muddy trenches, splintered trees and bomb-blasted nature in a painting entitled, We Are Making a New World. Our mere human weapons and mere human solutions, be they the League of Nations, NATO, the EU or the UN, all seem feeble tools to forge a new world. We are simply incapable of living in peace or making a land fit for heroes. The kind of new world order we long for will require radically new men and women, not unusually brave heroes but ordinary sinners saved by God’s grace.
Cherish the freedom of thought and religion that so many brave and selfless people purchased for you at the cost of their lives. Use your freedom to make a new world in which Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is famous, known and worshipped. Of all the heroes in all the stories of human conflict, Jesus alone was commanded by God to lay down his life as a sacrifice so that others could live forever. He gave his life and then took it up after destroying death forever. In 2018 we remember the fallen from our dreadful human conflicts, and we remember Jesus. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13.
Rev Angus MacRae is Moderator of the 2018 Free Church General Assembly. His address to the Assembly in May 2018 was on the theme of Peace: The Shalom of Jesus.