Poppies for Peace – Make Remembrance Day a Day to Strive for Peace


Martha Gordon Sermon Sunday 9 Nov 2014 – (Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25 the Covenant; Ps 78:1-7 the Word teaching the faith; 1 Thess 4:13-18 2nd coming; 1 Matt 25:1-13 being prepared and ready)

I greet you in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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.

This is the beginning of a poem by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor in World War 1 who wrote this after burying his friend in Flanders, Belgium in 1915. The soil was so polluted from the trench warfare only poppies could grow above the corpses buried below.


Remembrance Day on 11 November is still recognized throughout the Commonwealth countries because the end of WWI was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, a few months after John died. Remembrance Day was initially for WW1, then WW2 (see our plaque to remember the men from St Andrew’s who died in WW2). Now Remembrance Day remembers everyone – soldiers and civilians – who have died in all wars, including our own South African liberation war, and conflicts that continue today. Remembering the dead does not mean supporting war. In fact remembering should motivate us to work for peace. But there is no peace without justice, according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

No one will argue it was not a worthy cause fighting Hitler and the evils of Nazism or the evils of apartheid, but what about WW1 which was supposed to be the war to end all wars 100 years ago? It was an imperial war which killed 17 million and wounded 20 million people. Why do humans kill each other? Is this not against God’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. Is war not evil?

While Europe has experienced the most peaceful time in modern history since WW2, there are wars throughout the world.

Can any of you name a place where there is war? …

Did you know that there are 68 wars taking place right now?

Many people believe that fighting in a war is service to King and country. What about service to God? Isn’t that the goal we need to have?

Serving God.

Joshua today talks to the Israelites urging them to abandon the many foreign gods believed by the Egyptians and other neighbours and to serve only one God. They finally agreed, acknowledging it was God who got them safely out of Egypt. Joshua draws a line in the sand saying there is no turning back. They agreed with the covenant saying “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” Serving the Lord is in the Bible many times:

  • “Serve the Lord with Gladness” (Psalm 100:1a NIV)
  • “…serve Him with all your heart” (Joshua 22:5 NIV)
  • “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 4:10 (NIV)
  • “Serve whole-heartedly” (Eph 6:7 (NIV)
  • And in our Anglican Prayer Book (Church of the Province of Southern Africa, 1989. An Anglican Prayer Book. Claremont: Collins.)
  • “…through His son Jesus Christ we may give ourselves to his service.” (APB 1989:42)
  • “to serve you is perfect freedom” (Ibid:51)
  • “give your servants that peace which the world cannot give” (Ibid:61)
  • And finally the Eucharist dismissal which asks us to: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. (Ibid:129)

Today’s psalm is about remembering to learn the Lord’s commandments as our forefathers did and as we will teach our children so that they might put their confidence in God and keep His commandments. This commitment is linked to Paul telling us to be ready for the Coming of the Lord. We must keep hope knowing that those who sleep (who have died) are with the Lord already and that we will be with the Lord when it is our turn. I was relieved Paul was not talking about sleeping as in dozing, because I can sleep anywhere and have a fear of sleeping through and missing events. My kids love telling friends that I actually fell asleep during a World Cup match in Ellis Park surrounded by blasting vuvuzelas!

Now we get to the gospel reading of the parable of the 10 bridesmaids and the wedding banquet. In those days “bridesmaids” was describing adolescents or young women. You will see that as we get further into the story about preparation and thinking ahead and access to power and light, it could be a story about Eskom, power outages and load-shedding! The 10 young women are divided into 2 groups. One group is organized and prepared. The other travels light. It’s about balance. The parable tells us to be prepared and ready for when the Lord comes again. But don’t get so caught up in the detail of life that you miss the opportunity to live. If we live our lives to serve God, then we will be ready for when He comes again.

So what does serving God mean? How is it related to Remembrance Day?

If peace is the absence of war, and love is the absence of hate, then the best way to serve God is to love God and find peace in our hearts. Only then can we work for love and peace in our homes, communities and throughout the world. “The peace of God which passes all understanding…”

Maybe John McCrae’s poppies can be poppies for peace, and his torch can be the torch of peace that we pick up and carry. One death in war and violence is a death too many. So before concluding with the rest of John’s poem, when we say the peace this morning, really feel it in your hearts. After leaving church today, please pray and work for justice and peace in whatever way you can.

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.