Summary: It's remembrance Sunday, it's my very first Sunday in a new parish, can my grandad help me write a sermon?
So, who is this new vicar?
In this country if you ask someone “who are you? tell me about yourself?” they usually reply by telling you what they do -
“I’m Sharron, I’m a stock broker.” “I’m Cyril, I’m a nurse”, “I am Father Mund, I am a priest”.
But in many parts of Africa, if you ask someone “who are you? tell me about yourself?”, they will begin by telling you about their family, about their ancestors.
So let me tell you some stories about my Grandad.
My Grandad’s name was Alwyn. I only met him three or four times in my childhood because he lived in New Zealand and I lived here. But I remember a smiley old man who had awful backache and kept corgies. I remember a man who loved cooking and especially liked kitchen gadgets.
But although I only met him three or four times, there were lots of stories about him. I remember being told about when he was a school boy in 1916, and he and his class were asked what they expected to be when they grow up, and his classmate put up his hand and said “canon fodder”.
My grandad was just young enough not to serve in the first world war. But war effects so many more people than those who actually fight in it. We have all seen those harrowing photos of young children at the funerals of their fathers, the bodies repatriated from Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you went to the Tower of London, every single one of those poppies represented a person who died in the first world war. A person who was loved by their mum, who as a child played with other children. Who perhaps left a tear stained fiancee who never married or a widow and devastated children. Every poppy represents not just one soul, but the tears of many souls.
War is (to paraphrase the prophet Amos)”darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion,and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,and was bitten by a snake. ... darkness, not light,and gloom with no brightness in it” (Amos 5:18b-20)
My grandad and his school friends in 1916 may have been just too young to fight in the 1st world war, but they had elder brothers, boys who were a year or two ahead of them at school, dying on the Somme. They were terrified “when I grow up I’ll be Canon fodder”. War affects many more people than just those fight and die in it.
When I was at Holy Trinity Barkingside, my church warden was called Maxine, and her Son Chris was in the army. She could be in tears some time with anxiety about Chris. Each time he came back from Afghanistan or Iraq, would he be safe or would he be sent back again? Each he went back out, would he come back alive? I don’t yet know many of you, so I don’t yet know if any of you have family members serving in the forces. But if you do, you’ll agree - War affects many more people than just those fight and die in it.
Our epistle reading from Thessalonians is not specifically about war but about death in general. Yet because it speaks hope into death, it speaks hope into war.