Today is Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom. Today we remember the dead of two World Wars and those of conflicts since.
But watching today’s ceremony at the Cenotaph in London reminded me of so much more.
Why did they die ? For what ?
They died for our distinct way of life. They didn’t die just for country or Empire – now quite rightly a Commonwealth of Nations. They died for our culture and our tradition; they died to keep us free from an alien way of life; that we might preserve what we hold dear and true.
They were men and women; they were different colours and creeds; they were from different places around the world.
They were all human beings made in the image of God; given life by God; sustained by God; and taken back by God. And today they are honoured for their sacrifice. But in honouring them, we are reminded of much more.
As the assembled dignitaries stood to attention around the Cenotaph in this formal act of remembrance, I was reminded that no matter how important each of them may think they are, they are but participants in a far greater Drama.
Each is reminded of their place. However important each may individually be, they owe their position and importance to the place they occupy in the whole. Of themselves, and of ourselves, we are just individual human beings. If we have importance it is in relation to others, and to the Identity of the whole nation and tradition which is so vital to our meaning.
They assembled around a stark, white monument. There are no reminders of great battles on this monument. There are no reminders of great exploits by men. There is no glory about this monument. Just a sober reminder that our liberty and our identity comes at such a price.
When the French hold their ceremony tomorrow, they will do so around a monument glorying in war and their nation’s triumph. They will glory in death for their patrie, in death for “La Republique”.
They will honour Man as god.
They will have no time for God or for God’s values.
But our ceremony at the Cenotaph is held on the nearest Lord’s day to the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice.
It is held on the day Christianity sets apart to remember and honour God our Maker and God our Saviour – God our Deliverer in two World Wars and more.
At the heart of the Cenotaph ceremony are prayers to God. Reminders that all life comes from him, and that all life goes back to him.
The Anglican cleric leading the prayers recited the Lord’s Prayer from the 1662 Prayer Book:
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
THY KINGDOM COME,
THY WILL BE DONE IN EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
Not man’s will, or man’s Glory; but God’s will and God’s Glory. We remember that we are God’s creatures – dependent on God, answerable to God.
The Prayer Book enshrines Protestant Christianity as our national religion. The religion which gave rise to the English Constitutional Settlement of the late 17th century. That Settlement wholly framed our modern political system of constitutional monarchy; it confirmed the tradition of Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus and Common Law in our legal and political culture; it established the critical balance between the arms of government – it forbad Executive rule by fiat and Judge contrived Law; it allowed liberty of press and expression ; established the modern system of government finance; and confirmed the security of the individual’s property, life and liberty by the rule of Law applicable to ALL.
All this 100 hundred years before the violent Revolution in France tore down the established order to elevate The Rights of Man above the practical responsibilities required by God and by English tradition.
Our national anthem is a prayer. God save our Gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen
In our Tradition, we realise that even our monarch depends upon the grace and favour of Almighty God – and the Queen knows it too.
No militaristic celebration of Man as in the French Marseillaise; no inordinate and superior sense of national importance as in the German Deutschland, Deutschland UBER ALLES.
No, in our tradition, a recognition that God is above all, and that even our mightiest and greatest personage or achievement depends upon God. That ultimately, all Authority and all Morality flow from God alone. To God alone are all honour and worship ultimately due.
And they sang a Hymn by the great Reformed preacher, Isaac Watts, inspired by Psalm 90.
O God our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home
Under the shadow of Thy Throne thy saints have dwelt secure, sufficient is Thine arm alone, and our Defence is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame, from everlasting Thou art God, to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone, short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.
Time like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away; they fly forgotten as a dream, dies at the opening day.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guard while life shall last, and our eternal home.