Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 8th November 2015
As many of you will know, our Sunday school children are currently
studying “Pilgrim’s Progress”, the story of Christian’s journey to the celestial city via massive obstacles such as the Slough
of despond and the Hill of Difficulty. People perish on the way yet somehow our
hero keeps going, displaying endurance in places of mortal danger.
For many who fought in the world wars, their experience was not unlike
Christian's journey. They were compelled to leave home, only to find themselves
caught up in something seemingly insurmountable and bigger than all of
Today we remember those who fought in conflicts and we are privileged to
have amongst us today veterans of conflicts since the two World Wars. Many of
us will remember our own relatives who we knew who served in the two world wars
or in conflicts in the years that followed; we will also commemorate those who
died on some foreign field, perhaps, for example, that great uncle never known
by later generations but forever etched in the family consciousness.
My own great uncle Eric was 18 at the outbreak of the Great War. This is
About 2 o'clock in the morning
of August 5 the post office man came along. My brother had made arrangements, showed
him in which bedroom he slept. He made a noise outside and then delivered the
telegram confirming that war had been declared. I had at once to go down and
wake up the Sergeant major in Lavenham and he sent people out to the villages
around about to tell them they must come in. The local haberdashery opened
straight away so that people could get their kits all completed. The whole
village was woken up. One felt one was taking part in history; the
excitement-it was like a holiday-everybody was moving about. The Salvation Army
band had all turned up so we marched to the station with the band, crowds all
around us. The whole spirit was ecstasy-Rupert Brooke has got it absolutely
right in his poems.
Like so many, Eric responded to the call immediately, rather like the
apostles in today's gospel who left their nets immediately on encountering
Jesus and followed him.
So it was that three Wolton brothers left Lavenham on a journey they
knew not where. Two would not return until 1919, having fought at Gallipoli, in
Gaza, and at Jerusalem and Damascus ending up in Cairo. For the third Uncle
Owen, the Lavenham telegram man would, a year later arrive at the family home
with news that Owen, a much loved Sunday schoolteacher had been killed at Suvla
Bay within minutes of engaging in his first action.
How could it be that Owen, who worked in a bank in Bishops Stortford
less than a year before, would end up being killed on the shores of the Aegean
Sea? And how could his parents be prepared for such an outcome?
My grandfather and his brothers’ story is one of countless millions in these conflicts. I am sure you
are thinking of your own family's experience; indeed it may be that some of us
had relatives on opposing sides in these conflicts. By God’s grace, here we are in the sight of God, reconciled and shortly to join
together at God's holy table.
The First World War grieves us for many reasons, not least for the sheer
innocence of the participants. At the outset, they had no conception of the
carnage and horror that was about to befall them.
And the awful thing about the Second War, was that they did know, at
last until Hiroshima, which took war and destruction to a new level.
Today we remember the pain of those who survived and their loved ones,
pain so often not shared with others. No family was untouched. Here in St.
Georges we have many names on our memorial which are testament to the loss we
suffered. In Campden Mansions in Peel Street, for example, six families lost
The Book of Psalms contains verses that have such resonance for certain
moments of our lives. As we also remember those who were damaged mentally and
physically and disfigured, some so much so they could not be seen public, we
are reminded of Psalm31: "Even my neighbours look down on me. I have
become an object of fear to my friends, and whoever sees me outside runs away
The Psalms are also hopeful and today's Psalm contains this verse:
"God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge."
In October 1946, Bishop Leonard Wilson preached in the BBC Radio Sunday
service. He was Bishop of Singapore at the time of its capture by the Japanese
Interned in the notorious Changi jail, he was accused of being part of a
spy network and was interrogated under torture, and in the BBC broadcast said
“In the middle of that torture they asked me if I still believed in God.
When, by God’s help,
I said, ‘I do’, they
asked me why God did not save me, and by the help of his Holy Spirit, I said, ‘God does save me. He does not save me by freeing me from pain or
punishment, but he saves me by giving me the spirit to bear it.'"
Today, as we remember those who have experienced war, we thank God especially
for the gift of endurance.
We also thank God for the power of the human spirit to renew and
In the Great War, the city of Ypres was flattened by four years of
fighting. Dr. William Shakespeare, the grandfather of a member of our
congregation, was a young medic on the Western Front at Ypres.
This is a section of his poem on Ypres Cathedral:
Hope and mirth are gone. Beauty is departed.
Heaven's hid in smoke, if there's Heaven still.
Silent the city, friendless, broken-hearted,
Crying in quiet as a widow will.
Oh for the sound here of a good man's laughter.
Of one blind beggar singing in the street,
Where there's no sound, except a blazing rafter
Falls, or the patter of a starved dog's feet.
In September I visited Ypres. It was reconstructed after the Great War
to look, as accurately as possible, as it did in the years before the conflict.
Today Ypres is a beautiful, prosperous, peopled city.
Ypres is a physical manifestation of the power of the human spirit to
endure and renew and to resurrect. It is testament to the power of hope, the
gift of God that encourages us to work to bring about the Kingdom on earth. “If you have faith –you have hope. If you have hope, you have everything.”
Today, when we are all too aware of the havoc wrought by false
ideologies we give thanks to God for the gift of hope and freedom, the freedom
to worship without fear, never forgetting those whose sacrifice has made this