Remembrance: 1945 Sermon
Sermon preached at the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, May 9th 1945, by Gordon Stuart
The war in Europe is over.
After five-and-a-half years of labour and danger and sorrow we have attained the end we set before ourselves. But we cannot greet this attainment with any simple feelings. Our feelings are mixed, and they must differ according to the part we have played, and the degree of our suffering and loss. But we must all feel a deep and humble thankfulness that the killing and maiming of men by men is over, whether it has been done by us or to us.
We are thankful too that the way of life which we cherish in this country has been preserved to us - that government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from the earth, as it seemed at one moment so like to do. We are thankful that it has been preserved to us here, and thankful also that this preservation may make possible its restoration and extension in other parts of the world. For Democracy, with all its faults, is still the best way of living together that men have devised. It is also the only religious way. For all religion at its best believes in the value of the individual man, seeing him not as a puppet but as a person, not as a means but as an end.
And we are thankful to all those who have saved this way of life for us - to all those who in purity of heart and singleness of intention have risked or have given their lives, and to all those who have endured danger at home with courage and patience, in order that the highest values of our civilisation might survive. To them we owe a debt that only the best we can do and be can even begin to replay. Those who will not come back must never pass from our remembrance. And for those who do come back, and with them, we must make a world in which life may at last be lived in decency, dignity and beauty.
We meet in thankfulness. But we meet also in sorrow. Sorrow for all that is broken - the broken lives and homes and hopes, the broken happiness of children, the broken treasures of art, architecture and human memory, whether the memory be of Beethoven's home in Bonn or Dr Johnson's in London. Sorrow too - I think we cannot honestly avoid it - that we have been obliged to use evil to cast evil out. We know that this can be no more than a partial and temporary outcasting, unless we now give our hearts and minds to the more final and more blessed overcoming of evil with good. This is the Gospel of Christ. It is also the only thing which will ultimately work.
Because we have had to depart from this Gospel, however sadly and unwillingly, we must meet here also in repentance. It is clear to us, and rightly clear, that Germany must repent before she can be re-admitted to the community of nations. But we should remember that it is much easier, spiritually, to win a war than to lose it. Pride is strong and humility is difficult; and no nation and no individual is in a good position for casting stones in this matter of living as members of one of another. So, as the years pass, the peoples of the world must help each other to repent. We must repent, all of us together, of all our shares in the occasions of war. And we must all together try to build a world in which these occasions, grievance, envy, hatred, fear, frustration, will be less common.
This is yet another reason for repentance. I stand here this morning with an uninjured body, with eyes that can see, and with a precious freedom to say to you what seems to my conscience right to say, knowing that you who are listening, and our country, give me this freedom. Your fathers helped to win it; your sons have helped defend it. When I remember the price at which my uninjured body and my freedom of speech have been bought, I feel bound to ask myself if I am worth it? It is not, I find, a comfortable question. But I think we are all bound to ask it of ourselves. And for all in which we have been unworthy we must ask forgiveness; for all in which we may yet be worthy we must ask for strength.
In face of the suffering of these past years, many of our ways of living seem mean and shoddy. But justice and mercy, truth and beauty, generosity, toleration and forgiveness, making the broken whole and the disunited one, these stand out as the things that cannot be shaken, the only things that matter. And to the increase of these things in ourselves and in our world we must dedicate ourselves to-day.
Men and women of good will have never met together in a more solemn moment. They have never faced together a more difficult task than that of making fruitful to the world this terrible travail of the world. None of us faces it all, and none of us faces it alone, but of each of us is required faithfulness to all that we can be, faithfulness in all that we can do.
So, in deep thankfulness, in reverent remembrance, in faith that evil cannot break and hope that difficulty will not quench, let us pray to the God of the whole earth, that all the children of men, friends and enemies, may come to see the beauty of His ways, and to walk in them in peace.