Remembrance Sunday 2023: Love & Service

1 Thessalonians 4:13-end
John 15:9-17

The British Legion’s theme for Remembrance this year is focussed on remembering and honouring Service. There are significant anniversaries united with the theme of service: the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting of the Korean War. It has been 60 years since National Service ended with the last serviceman being demobbed. It is also the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush Empire’s arrival which brought settlers from the Caribbean to help with the post-war rebuilding efforts. There are also efforts to remember the contribution from Commonwealth personnel.

The Legion also endeavours to mark South Asian Heritage Month and Black History Month. Each of these events highlight the service of people who are often overlooked and whose stories are not told. However, their service is commendable and needs to be recognised. None of us have a monopoly on service.

The Legion writes, ‘Service, the act of defending and protecting the nation’s democratic freedoms and way of life, is rarely without cost for those who serve. Physical, mental or emotional injury or trauma; the absence of time with family; or the pressures and dangers that come from serving, highlight why the Remembrance of service is so important.’

I wonder what your first experience of community or public service was beyond your family?

Mine came through the Guiding movement; and as a good Canadian Brownie and Girl Guide, I spent many a November 11th shivering in my uniform at the local Cenotaph. November can be a rather frigid month in Alberta! It had to be a full-on blizzard with sub-arctic temperatures (hell would have to freeze over first) before any consideration would be given to moving indoors. Those old Canadian Legion members were a tough bunch!

I remember thinking about what was happening on Remembrance Day in other countries and feeling that somehow the world was joined on that day. And it is.

It is important to consider the cost of service, the cost to those who serve and the cost to those who support those who serve. Although the cost is often high, it is undervalued. Some pay the ultimate price and that is what we, of course, remember today.

There has been a change in societal attitudes to service, both civilian and military. Government spending cuts, the rise of social media, the pursuit of one’s personal comfort and convenience over the collective good have all contributed. In recent times we have seen the British Forces undertaking more civil work; driving ambulances and running testing centres during Covid, carrying out relief work in areas of the country experiencing flooding.

Some members of the public do not think that the armed services should be doing this sort of work. I spoke to a serving British Army officer about this at a wedding last summer. He pointed out that 20-30 years ago, almost everyone would know someone in the armed services but this is no longer the case. Currently the majority of people do not know anyone in the forces given the reduction in the number of serving personnel.

His view is that the public seeing the army serving the nation is actually a good thing. There is also a very low public appetite for sending personnel into active combat. His pride in these jobs was evident.

During Covid there was a huge swell in public service with many people wanting to get involved and help neighbours and communities in need. Whats App groups sprang up all over the country as neighbours reached out. People who lived next to each other for years finally learned each other’s names! There was and hopefully still is a real desire to serve our communities.

Why do people serve? Think of a few words or phrases about the why.

Loyalty, commitment, purpose, meaning, desire to help or care for others, sense of justice, the greater good. Love.

How do we respond to those who serve? Admiration, inspiration, respect, awe, but above all I would hope with love.

Love is the answer. Love is what should underpin our service. Not sappy or soppy love. Agape love. 1 Corinthians 13 love. Love that is patient, kind, never gives up, looks forward and not backwards. This love is more than emotional; it is a response to wanting what is best for the other despite the cost to ourselves. It is not easy, it often does not feel good.

Think of soldiers on a battlefield, fighting for a cause that is bigger than themselves, doing it for the people they love back at home. For King and country. For the man beside them. Honour and duty will take one so far but only love reaches the end.

Jesus is telling his disciples to stay in his love. Abide has a lasting, long-term quality to it. The timing of this passage is crucial; Jesus and the disciples are at the Last Supper and these are some of the final words of Jesus. Love. We are to love one another. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is not an easy way to love a friend. This is the highest calling of love that there is. This is love shown to us by Jesus dying on the cross.

What the world needs now, in the words of Jackie Deshannon, is love sweet love.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some, but for everyone

Not just love for people that we love naturally or who are easy to love. Loving our neighbours as ourselves, loving our enemies. It is not convenient or easy to love the people we find difficult. This is where God’s love, agape love, comes into play. It is not about our feelings or desires, it is tapping into God’s view of the world.

The end of St John’s life was hard. All of his friends (including Jesus) had been killed or crucified in horrendous ways; he was probably present at their deaths. John had been exiled to the Greek island of Patmos under extreme conditions.

He was extraordinarily dedicated to his cause (as many people can be), his passion is evident in his writings. John had dedicated his life to the service of others by telling the Good News of Jesus. Despite the hardships, pain and grief, at the end of his life John knows that it is love that got him through. Everything he did was all done for love.

John learned over his many decades, that following the commands of Jesus, leads to a full, loving abundant life. What a different world it would be if we could abide in God’s love and live out the commandment to love one another as God has loved us. Maybe we would not be here today?

Maybe I am a little idealistic. Like many people, I yearn for a world that is fair, peaceful with love and grace in abundance.

As we remember again today those who have died in the theatre of war, we can be reassured that because of the resurrection of Jesus, it was not for nothing. The cost of their service came at a high price; it cost everything. The love, the life, the sharing of burden and suffering, the service required to work together for a greater good is not lost in death. There is more to the story.

Our own service whether to King and country or friend and neighbour is needed and valuable. It needs to be done from a place of love.