“Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”
Words of reassurance from the prophet Zechariah who was addressing the Jewish people on their return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon over 2,500 years ago. Their time “away” would come to an end and the streets of the city would once again pulsate with life. How contemporary those feelings are; how relevant those words sound to our own time! And how relevant they would have been against the backdrop of VE Day in 1945 – from this moment no longer the fear of air raid sirens or the need for blackout, the streets could be occupied once again without fear.
Seventy-Five years ago today Western Europe finally silenced the guns of the previous six years to bring about the end of what had become the single deadliest conflict in history. Over 25 million soldiers had lost their lives, as well as 55 million civilians, including 11 million killed in concentration camps. In the UK, over 380,000 military personnel had been killed along with 67,000 civilians; another 375,000 returned wounded – VE Day was a bittersweet celebration and our commemoration of it would be incomplete if we did not face the sorrow as much as the joy of the occasion.
The Second World War, in common with all occasions of armed conflict, is a terrible reminder of our failure as human beings to live together in justice and peace, to be unable to resolve our differences in wiser ways than resorting to violence. In each generation we have to remind ourselves of that dark truth in the fervent hope we can learn from the past and deepen our wisdom for the future. (To acknowledge that is in no way to doubt the necessity of having had to take up arms against the evil of the Third Reich for the protection of the innocent and the establishment of justice.)
The same might be said of the experience of “lock-down” which may or may not be about to ease, but its experience will be reduced in significance if we do not spend some time reflecting on the lessons it may hold for each and every one of us, lessons which may in some respects be shared but in other respects will be deeply personal and individual. Is there something we will do differently as we look to the future? Are there people or a person to whom we will give higher regard, with whom we will spend more time, for whom we may be more available?
Such questions are universal; they are not the preserve of one faith group or community. They serve to remind us of the shared and corporate nature of our lives. Here in Harrow, proud of the multi-faith identity of the Borough, faith leaders in conjunction with the Council have been looking at ways in which we can share in some common reflective act, affirming our essential unity within the diversity of our creeds and cultures.
As we rightly and appropriately celebrate and give thanks today for the establishment of peace in Western Europe 75 years ago, we continue to hold in our memory those to whom we must be forever grateful: those who say to us still, the words of the Kohima Epitaph……
"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"
As we look to the future, we are encouraged to play our part in offering ourselves in service to one another, we are challenged to work for a world in which there is deeper respect for each other, a world in which we celebrate our diversity while acknowledging our common humanity. Those sentiments are gathered up into St Paul’s affirmation to the Church in Corinth, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
As we celebrate the defeat of evil, so we commit ourselves to practising reconciliation wherever there may be division, misunderstanding, doubt and fear. Whoever we are and wherever we may be, that is a challenge in which we can all share, at home, in school, in the workplace, in our local community, amongst friends, within the family. We are called to “the ministry of reconciliation.”
God Bless you and keep you safe