On Remembrance Sunday, it is a time to reflect on the wars that have been fought in our recent history, but perhaps also about the wars going on in the world now. As we do so we hold in tension a desire to honour, even celebrate the courage and sacrifice of those who have given or risked their lives for our freedoms with a need to remember the horror of war, so that we seek peace. Today, I want to focus on the horror of war.
The Horror of War
The poem that the mayor chose and read a little while ago, brings out some of the horror of war. It is a horror that was especially expressed by the poets after the great and tragic loss of life in the First World War.
Yet, it is also a horror that we see so clearly in Ukraine now. This week, one expert estimated that around 100,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured in the war so far. In addition to that 1,000s of civilians have also been killed and millions have fled as refugees. It’s hard to grasp what those numbers mean, but they are more than numbers, they are countless stories of individual tragedy.
Before the war, Irina and Ivan were a married couple living happily in Mariupol in Ukraine. Ivan was an engineer at the steelworks and Irina was a manager of a clothes shop. They had been trying for a baby for many years and were overjoyed when finally Irina fell pregnant. It was going to be a boy and they were going to call him Miron.
By the time Miron was due, the war had begun and Russian troops had surrounded Mariupol and were bombarding the city as they sought to capture this important strategic point on the South East coast of Ukraine.
One of the most notorious moments in the war so far was the bombing of the maternity hospital in Mariupol. Irina was in the maternity hospital when it happened. It was a devastating attack in which Irina about to give birth was seriously injured. She was carried across the rubble on a stretcher an image that was photographed and used in the news media around the world. They tried to deliver the baby by Caesarean Section, but Miron was already dead. Irina learning of the death of her long hoped for child lost the will to live herself and soon also died of her injuries. Ivan had to bury his wife and his newborn child together.
Their story is just one among thousands from Ukraine over the last year. War is horrible.
It’s root: Sin – James 4:1-2
But why is there war at all?
John Lennon in his song, Imagine, sang:
“Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…”
The implication is that wars are caused by countries and religions. If you could get rid of countries and religions then we could all just live together in peace.
But is that really true? Yes, countries and religions are often the excuse for wars, but are they really the cause.
James, who was Jesus’s brother, suggests another reason for war. In your service sheets look at the quote from James 4:1-2:
“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.” (James 4:1-2)
In other words he says the real root of war is within the heart of every human being – our own selfish desires that lead us to exploit, bully and kill others to get our own way. The Bible calls this inner attitude, ‘Sin!’
Nations when they work well control and limit sin, by putting in place and enforcing laws to stop people hurting each other. Yet sadly, wars come about when nations allow these inner selfish attitudes to determine their policy. Just as Russia has invaded Ukraine in order to achieve its own selfish goals. It’s because of such threats that we need a nation with strong armed forces as a deterrent against the sin of other nations threatening us.
So, nations can control and limit sin, but they cannot change the hearts of people, its ultimate cause. That is where religion comes in.
It’s opposite: Peace – Isaiah 2:4
The second quote comes from Isaiah, a prophet in the Old Testament that lived during a time when his nation, Judah was invaded a number of times by other nations. He would have known and seen the horror of war. Yet, 2,700 years before John Lennon he also imagined a better future.
“The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)
It was a vision of a future with no war not brought about by the abolition of nations and religion, but brought about by God himself bringing peace between nations!
Yet, is this just a dream? How can peace become a reality?
Jesus, the Prince of Peace
This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus did not experience the horror of battle, but he did die an horrific death at the hand of Roman soldiers. He was crucified, because of the selfish desires and jealousies of the religious leaders of his own nation. He came to us as the Son of God, the Prince of Peace and what did we do to him? We murdered him. Here is the horror of sin writ large!
Yet, Jesus’s death was also a moment of supreme courage and sacrifice. He gave his life willingly, because somehow through his death the power of sin is neutralised as he took God’s anger at our sin on himself and went on to conquer death in his resurrection.
And he did this because he loves us. He himself said in the second reading:
“Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
And so he calls those who accept and trust in this great act of love and choose to follow him, to love in return. Love is the opposite of sin. It is the desire to treat the other as important and as valuable as yourself, so that you don’t exploit them to get what you want, but like Jesus, you are willing to make sacrifices for their good. As the world is transformed by this love of Jesus, so peace grows and wars cease.
Of course this is still a work in progress, even those who have claimed to be followers of Jesus, often fail to live this out as Jesus wants. But ultimately, as Christians today, our hope, like Isiaiah’s is not in what we might achieve, but in the promised future God will bring about, when Jesus returns. We look with hope to a life beyond this life, where there will be no more wars or suffering or pain or peace. A life not without God, but where we see him face to face. That may feel like a far off dream, but when like Isaiah we have confidence in God’s ultimate plan for the future, we will want to help to bring it about as much as is possible now.
We need nations and our armed forces to control the worst effects of human sin and evil. But, will you come to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to help transform your heart and have hope for a better future?