Today is Remembrance Day. I would guess that relatively few in our country know that the centre of gravity - in terms of casualties and strategic battles in the Second World War - was some way eat of Berlin. How many of us know that there were double the number of deaths in Warsaw than in London during that conflict? Less than 1% of our population died in World War II; in Belarus the figure is 25%. The UK suffered about 150,000 military war deaths overall from 1939 to 1945. The number of casualties in the Soviet Union is estimated to be about eleven million.
Understandably, every country tends to focus on those aspects of a war which most directly affect it. Our national consciousness at Remembrance here in the UK is shaped by events like the Somme, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, D-Day and so on, as well of course as more recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falkland Islands.
Ever since the Armistice Treaty in 1918 annual services of remembrance have given thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy and that were secured at so high a price; the lives of soldiers and civilians, plus many wounded to say nothing of the pain endured by loved ones when they learned that their husbands, fiancés, sons and fathers would never come home again.
103 years after the war that was supposed to end all wars, it has been estimated that perhaps 120 million people have been killed in armed conflict. However righteous the cause, however noble the objective, war always leaves heartbroken widows, fatherless sons and daughters and grief-stricken mothers who have to bury their own children.
Our acts of remembrance honour and lament the many who died too young in the fields of battle, and we stand with those survivors who are most traumatised by war’s devastation. If we held a minute's silence for every victim of the holocaust, our world would have to be muted for eleven and a half years.
As is often quoted in remembrance services and on war memorials, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.13). He said these words just hours before he died, giving his life not just for his country but for the whole world, to liberate it forever from the tyranny of sin and eternal death. His unique sufferings secure an enduring peace with God, having power to cleanse all who turn to him in repentance of all guilt and all sin for all time.
Sir Winston Churchill wrote a six-volume history of the Second World War, which told the story of that conflict from the British point of view and it won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. The last volume was intriguingly entitled, “Triumph and Tragedy: How the great democracies triumphed, and so were able to resume the follies which had so nearly cost them their life.”
These are words that should trouble our national consciousness and stir deep repentance in us. At this time of national remembrance, we do well to remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, quarrelling, and slander be put away from you, along with all hatred. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4.31).