National Memorial Arboretum
- Two monuments:
- Armed Forces Memorial – opened by Queen in 2007.
- Honours those members of the Armed Forces who were killed since WW2.
- Shot at Dawn Memorial
- Commemorates the 306 British Army and Commonwealth soldiers executed after courts-martial for desertion and other capital offences during World War I.
- Captain Julian Bickersteth – served as Chaplain During WW1, was mentioned twice in dispatches & awarded Military Cross in 1918 for “distinguished service in the Field". He wrote a moving letter to his mother about spending a night in a prison cell with a soldier who was going to be shot at dawn for desertion
He sat down heavily on a chair…. I took a chair and sat next to him. 'I am going to stay with you and do anything I can for you. If you'd like to talk, we will, but if you would rather not, we'll sit quiet.' … Suddenly I hear great heaving sobs and the prisoner breaks down and cries. In a second I lean over close to him, as he hides his face in his hands, and in a low voice I talk to him…. How can I reach his soul? I get out my Bible and read to him something from the Gospel. It leaves him unmoved. He is obviously uninterested and my attempt to talk a little about what I have read leaves him cold…. I get out an army prayer- book, which contains at the end about 130 hymns, and handing him the book, ask him to read through the part at the end, so that, if he can find a hymn he knows, I can read it to him. He hits on Rock of Ages and asks, not if I will read it to him, but if we can sing it… and we sat there and sang hymns together for three hours or more… Oh! how we sang — hymn after hymn…. All night I sat by his side…. At 3.00 a.m. I watched the first beginnings of dawn through the window. At 3.30 a.m. I heard the tramp tramp of the Firing Party marching down the road…. While his breakfast was being brought up, we knelt together in prayer. I commended him to God and we said together the Lord's Prayer… 'Is it time to go?' he said. `Yes, it is time. I will stay close to you.'… I held the prisoner's arm tight for sympathy's sake. Reaching the house, the police immediately hand-cuffed the man and the Doctor blindfolded him… I said a short prayer and led him the 10 or 12 paces out into the yard, where he was at once bound to a stake. I whispered in his ear `Safe in the arms of Jesus', and he repeated quite clearly 'Safe in the arms of Jesus'…. In three or four seconds the Firing Party had done their work. Poor lads — I was sorry for them. They felt it a good deal and I followed them out of the yard at once and spoke to them and handed them cigarettes… we took the body in a motor ambulance to the nearest cemetery, where I had a burial party waiting, and we gave his body Christian burial. (Taken from 'The Bickersteth Diaries 1914-1918')
- In 2007 the Armed Forces Act 2006 was passed, pardoning posthumously the 306 soldiers shot during WW1.
- These monuments, like war memorials up & down the country help us to remember the cost of war, and for us to not take for granted the freedoms we enjoy today.
- Remembering is important.
- When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, God instructed Joshua to choose twelve men, one from each tribe, and take a stone from the Jordan River and put them down at the place where they were to spend the night. In order to serve as a sign. So that
‘when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel for ever.”’ (Joshua 4:6-7)
- This pile of rocks, was to remind the people of Israel how God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to freedom in the promised land.
- At the heart of the Christian faith stands an even greater, more powerful symbol of God’s love for us, and that is the cross.
- In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
- That is what Jesus did for us, when he laid down his life for us on the cross.
- Apostle John wrote ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10)
- Paul writes ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)
- Through his death on the cross & his resurrection Jesus has led us:
- from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ
- from darkness to light
- from despair to hope
- from alienation to reconciliation
- from death to life
As the words of the song Amazing Love, expresses it:
My Lord, what love is this That pays so dearly That I, the guilty one May go free!
Amazing love, O what sacrifice The Son of God given for me My debt He paid, and my death He died That I might live, that I might live That I might live!
How do we respond to such love?
- First of all we need to remain in God’s love.
- “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9)
- What does this mean exactly?
- First of all it is about knowing & loving God
- When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment of all, he answered. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.’ (Luke 10:27)
- You cannot love someone you don’t know, so knowing God should be our first priority, and the way we get to know someone is by spending time in their company. And with God we do this through study of His word, and through prayer & worship.
- But it doesn’t end there.
- Jesus makes it clear, to remain in his love is also about OBEDIENCE.
- “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love…. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:10, 12)
- Jesus commands us to love one another. That is why Jesus after saying we should love God, goes on to say love your neighbour as yourself.
- Love starts with God, but then moves out to those around us.
- The Apostle John said this: ‘If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.’ (1 John 4:20)
Jesus Our Model
- As Christian’s, we look to Jesus, who is our role model, and guide. Love each other AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.
- If we are serious about loving people like Jesus, it will be costly, because Jesus is the one who called us to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ (Matthew 5:44) And he is the one who laid down his life for us, out of love for us.
A Divided World
- We live in a very divided society and divided world. We’ve seen this in this country following the Brexit vote, and in America with the presidential election, and the tension and fear that exists between different people.
- As God’s people, we are called to commit ourselves to the task of peace, in our church, in our community, amongst our family & friends and in the world at large.
- If we want to see peace in our lives & peace in our world, then we need to take seriously Jesus’ instruction to love one another.
- Mothering Theresa said 'Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.'
- There was an old man who used to walk along the beach every morning. Early one morning, walking along the beach after a big storm had passed, he found the beach littered with star fish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance the old man noticed a small boy who would bend down, pick up an object and throw it into the ea. As the boy came closer the old man called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto teach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves, and when the sun gets high, they will de unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it back into the ocean. Then he turned and smiled and said “It made a difference to that one.”
How do we make a difference in the world? Loving one person at a time.
So let us commit ourselves to responsible living and faithful service.
Let us strive for all that makes for peace.
Let us seek to heal the wounds of division.
Let us work for a just future for all humanity.
And let us do this, by following the example of our crucified saviour who calls us to love one another, as he has loved us, knowing as Julian reminded the soldier, that we are ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus’.