My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15. 12 – 15)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10.19 – 23)
This summer was a particularly good year for poppies and we saw whole areas covered with this bold red flower on the cliffs of Norfolk near Cromer and in the cornfields and hedgerows here in Northamptonshire. However, at this time of year, we associate poppies with Remembrance thanks to the poem of John McCrae, ‘In Flanders’ Fields’.
The poem was written by McCrae after he had presided over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier, who had died in May 1915 near Ypres. He noted how quickly poppies grew up around the graves of fallen soldiers. The poem’s immediate popularity with its reference to the red poppies that grew up amidst the carnage of the First World War battlefields quickly led to the poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
Our first Bible reading for today is often quoted at Acts of Remembrance, particularly verse 13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” These words of Jesus foretell his own action of self-sacrifice on the cross to rescue humanity from the effect of sinfulness. This action put us right with God once and for all. It has also inspired many since to lay down their own lives for the benefit of others.
The writer of Hebrews tells us succinctly what the death of Jesus achieved. It has opened up a new and living way for us to come boldly into God’s presence. Jesus took our punishment to bring us peace with God. This is not simply peace for our lifespan on earth. Where there was once hostility, now we can know everlasting peace.
The role of the Army Chaplains was vital in supporting the soldiers and encouraging them to hold unswervingly to this sure and certain hope for eternity in the face of the uncertainties of the battlefields in which many of them were destined to lose their lives.
God, our refuge and strength, bring near the day when wars shall cease, and poverty and pain shall end, that earth may know the peace of heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
‘In Flanders’ Fields’ by John McCrae
In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.