Monday, 12 November 2012

A new vision

Yesterday was Remembrance Day in the UK and it was marked by a very moving service in St Alban's Anglican Church here in Copenhagen. I have been involved in Remembrance Day services in many different situations, including in a parish with an army barracks where it was particularly poignant. However, it was slightly odd to mark it in a country where it is not known by anyone else. The church was full, there were ambassadors from many of the Allied nations and members of the Danish Resistance. Yet there is an odd feeling here as though that the Danes and Germans haven't really resolved the tensions since the Second World War. I don't claim to know the details but basically Denmark saw that resisting the German invasion would be futile due to the mismatch of military forces and instead there was a surrender "under protest". This meant that Denmark was allowed some degree of sovereignty and the Danes were treated well compared to other occupied nations, with even very few Jews being killed. But whether it is a sense of guilt, or an inherent suspicion of Germans that is fostered, there is a definite tension.

Put into a Christian context this becomes a difficult situation as it is impossible to look for future peace if you have not resolved feelings from the past. That was what was recognised in South Africa with their Truth and Reconciliation Commission, although their are obviously difficult racial tensions still present there. Churches already tread a fine line between honouring those who have served their country while standing under a banner of peace. There is a difficulty in recognising conscientious objectors. The church claims sympathy with them and yet is often scared to say this out loud in case it offends those who feel this day is only for remembering those who served in the military. Remembrance Day is one of the few times in the year where people feel it is natural to go to church and yet they place their own judgement on what the church is allowed to say. There is a wonderful hymn by the New Zealand writer Shirley Erena Murray called "Hymn for Anzac Day" which I think deals with this particularly well in it's third verse.
"Honour the brave whose conscience was their call, answered no bugle, went against the wall, suffered in prisons of contempt and shame, branded as cowards, in our country's name."
We need to remember that war claims victims under many different circumstances and those who suffered by standing up for their belief that violence is wrong should be honoured for their bravery without it detracting from our respect for those who suffered for their belief that they should take up arms to fight injustice and oppression. For people my age who are two generations removed from conscription it is impossible to imagine the sort of decision which a young man would have faced, knowing that to stand up for his beliefs he would be branded a traitor and a coward, made an outcast by many, and possibly even imprisoned or shot. You can read some stories from conscientious objectors on the BBC's WW2 Archive.

Of course, above all the church needs to stand up for a new vision of the world, in which conflict is not resolved by violence. And many Christians (along with people of other faiths and no faith) have taken the lead in protesting against nuclear weapons, or against wars such as the most recent invasion of Iraq. Whether this can ever be attained on earth we don't know. This video from an Harvard University academic claims that wars between countries have been getting fewer and that it is very possible for world peace to be achieved. This is of course a wonderful thought and many around the world pray that ongoing conflicts such as those between Israel/Palestine and North/South Korea can be resolved but even if they can that is one small part of what we need to achieve. With the power of multinational corporations growing exponentially at the expense of ordinary people, there are different types of war which we need to recognise and wars between countries are perhaps not the most relevant to modern times. However, on a positive note let me leave you with a beautiful setting of a passage from Revelation by Edgar Bainton, where John sees a vision of a new world with no more suffering for any reason.

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and their shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)

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