Sermon for Remembrance Sunday – 14th November 2021

Remembrance Sunday

Job 19:21-27; Psalm 90; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; John 6:37-40

I cannot say too strongly that I believe every able-bodied man ought to volunteer for service anywhere. Here ought to be no shirking of that duty”.

G A Studdert Kennedy

The words of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (otherwise known as Woodbine Willie) in his parish magazine in Worcester in September 1914. Although Studdert Kennedy wanted to play hispart in the war effort by being a Forces’ Chaplain, it wasn’t straightforward at the time. He had to make arrangements to cover for his absence from his parish, and convince his Bishop, and the Chaplain-General. It took him until December 1915 to be appointed Temporary Chaplain, and on Christmas day he found himself in France, preaching to 400 men and receiving communicants in a barn, as the rain and guns thundered.

Studdert Kennedy’s experiences at the front seem to have changed his view of war quite quickly. Within a short time his attitude to war seemed to have little in common with that early parish magazine article, when he wrote his poem “Waste”:

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain, 
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain, 
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health, 
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth, 
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears, 
Waste of Youth’s most precious years, 
Waste of ways the Saints have trod, 
Waste of glory, Waste of God, – War!

Waste” by G A Studdert Kennedy

How do we relate our Remembrance of those who fought and died in war to God?” is a question that many people including Studdert Kennedy have asked repeatedly as they reflect on war and suffering and all that it means. How do we honour the sacrifice of those who lost their lives, whilst at the same time finding war utterly abhorrent? Where is God in our suffering not only in war, but in every aspect of our lives? A question also relevant to much of what’s happened during the pandemic.

Some theologians might argue that because Christ suffered and died that God understands and bears our suffering. Studdert Kennedy explores this in his poem “The Suffering God”.

If He could speak, that victim torn and bleeding, 
Caught in His pain and nailed upon the Cross. 
Has he to give the comfort souls are needing? 
Could he destroy the bitterness of loss?

Once and for all men say He came and bore it, 
Once and for all set up His throne on high, 
Conquered the world and set His standard o’er it, 
Dying that once, that men may never die.

From “The Suffering God” by G A Studdert Kennedy

But such a “once and for all” suffering didn’t seem to Studdert Kennedy to be an adequate answer for those that he was ministering to in the First World War trenches. It wasn’t enough to meet the pastoral needs of the men who were facing unimaginable suffering day after day. So Studdert Kennedy has to look deeper into the mystery of the cross and what it might mean for those who suffer.

How can it be that God can reign in glory, 
Calmly content with what his Love has done, 
Reading unmoved the piteous shameful story, 
All the vile deeds men do beneath the sun…”

Father, if He, Christ, were Thy Revealer,
Truly the First begotten of the Lord,
Then must Thou be a Suff’rer and a Healer, 
Pierced to the heart by the sorrow of the sword.

Then must it mean, not only that thy sorrow Smote 
Thee that once upon the lonely tree, |
But that to-day, to-night, and on the morrow, 
Still it will come, O Gallant God, to thee…

From “The Suffering God” by G A Studdert Kennedy

In other words God’s suffering goes on whilst there is suffering in our world. It’s interesting that in spite of his experiences that Studdert Kennedy doesn’t suggest even through the awfulness of war that the Suffering God is a pacifist. In spite of everything Studdert Kennedy doesn’t himself become a pacifist in the trenches – he would probably have been a much less effective and possibly useless pastor to his men if he had! 

It’s perhaps part of God’s suffering, like humanity’s, that war is sometimes ‘necessary’ to prevent a greater wrong – albeit that it’s tragic and wasteful. Studdert Kennedy’s experience of the war shapes his thinking about God. That thinking in turn gives comfort to those with whom he serves, it’s even able to offer support and comfort to those about to go and ‘fight the good fight’.

The Suffering God” is a long poem, in which these ideas are worked out. I can’t think of a better way to end today, than to offer you the final part of it, which seems to me to speak quite eloquently about what we are doing this morning as we honour all those who have fought and died in the wars of the last century or more.

Peace does not mean the end of all our striving, 
Joy does not mean the drying of our tears; 
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving 
Up to the light where God Himself appears. 

Joy is the wine that God is ever pouring 
Into the hearts of those who strive with Him, 
Light’ning their eyes to vision and adoring, 
Strength’ning their arms to warfare glad and grim. 

So would I live and not in idle resting, 
Stupid as swine that wallow in the mire; 
Fain would I fight, and be for ever breasting 
Danger and death for ever under fire. 

Bread of Thy Body give me for my fighting, 
Give me to drink Thy Sacred Blood for wine, 
While there are wrongs that need me for the righting, 
While there is warfare splendid and divine. 

Give me, for light, the sunshine of Thy sorrow, 
Give me, for shelter, shadow of Thy Cross; 
Give me to share the glory of Thy morrow, 
Gone from my heart the bitterness of Loss.

From “The Suffering God” by G A Studdert Kennedy


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