A Sermon Preached Online on
Remembrance Sunday, November 8, 2020
With the People of The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality. Wisdom 3.1-4
Why two minutes of silence?
A resource at the Open University website gives the explanation:
In Britain, at 11 o’clock on 11 November 1919, the first two minute’s silence was used to mark the first anniversary of the Armistice. The idea came from Sir Percy Fitzpatrick who had served as high commissioner in South Africa during the First World War. He modelled the silence on a practice he had observed over there known as the ‘three minutes’ pause’:
“At noon each day, all work, all talk and all movement were suspended for three minutes that we might concentrate as one in thinking of those – the living and the dead – who had pledged and given themselves for all that we believe in.”
It seemed an ideal way to honour the dead, console the bereaved and recognise the sacrifices of servicemen and women. However, three minutes was deemed too long and on November 7 the plans for a two minute silence, to mark the armistice, were officially announced by King George V. The silence proved to be a great success. Almost everyone was keen to observe it and, particularly in the hustle and bustle of cities, the silence was deafening, as this report from Plymouth suggests:
“For two minutes after the hour of eleven had struck yesterday morning Plymouth stood inanimate with the nation… Two minutes before the hour the maroons boomed out their warning in one long drawn out note… As the hour struck a great silence swept of the town. People halted in their walks, chatter ceased as if by magic, traffic stopped and the rumbling note of industry stayed.”
The practice in the UK is now to observe the Two Minutes not only on Remembrance Sunday, but on November 11, at 11:00 am.
But we do it for a number of other reasons.
First, the silence is an inchoate moment of grief for the dead. Regardless of what we might think of the war goals set by politicians, the strategies of generals that led to victories and losses, there is sheer fact of the vast number of the dead. This is a moment simply to grieve the lives that have been lost, the potential that ended prematurely.
Second, we so rarely pause at anything in the world. This brief moment allows us to call into question the normal business of commerce, education, politics, and entertainment, and for a moment, to hallow human life.
Third, it is inclusive. Remembrance Day services tend to be very English, very “C of E”. A moment of silence is an opportunity for people of any faith or none to say a prayer, or to meditate on the losses.
Fourth, as Christians, we know that too often words fail us, but that God through the Holy Spirit prays within us. As Paul writes in Romans 8.26:
“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Fifth, we believe that death is not the end, which is why the Two Minutes Silence is framed by Last Post and Reveille, symbolizing death and resurrection, respectively. In Christ we find the evidence of that new life. In Christ we hear see that “all things are being made new.” Through Christ we look forward to the time when “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
Sixth, in silence we meet God. The great mystics and monastics of past ages often sought the divine in wordless prayer, and these Two Minutes is but a brief taste of this, when the one who exceeds all our capacities meets us.
Finally, the silence we observe is an echo of the silence heard on November 11, 1918. It was strange for the soldiers and others at the front, after more than four years of war to have silence on the fronts. English poet Wilfred Owen called it the “monstrous anger ,of the guns.” Suddenly, it became so quiet you could hear a watch ticking.
We need more silences.
We need more silences like this – silence from the monstrosities of our day, opportunities to remember and to hope, times to find God. May you find them
May you remember in the silence – in the silences of Remembrance Sundays yet to come, or later today if you watch the broadcast from London or listen via internet radio, or on November 11th.