The Invisible Occupation

Linda Bongiorno
Tuesday 12 May 2020

Preacher: Revd Samantha Ferguson

Readings: Romans 8: 31-39; John 15:9-17

In the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

Banjour! (Hello)

Heaviness may linger for the night, but Joy comes in the morning.

So say the words from our Psalmist this morning, psalm 30 which is ascribed as a thanksgiving for recovery from a grave illness.

Words of healing and words of comfort indeed during these troubled times.

And, my friends, we are living in troubled times. But we are blessed that these troubled times are framed within the landscape of Peace.

This weekend, we celebrate 75 years of peace, hard fought for and hard won.

Today, I find myself reflecting that I am formed of many parts that helped create that peace.

I am the granddaughter of two men who served in a war they never wanted to fight and yet, when called upon, without hesitation they left hearth and home, went to battle for peace and survived the beaches of Dunkirk.

I am the great-niece of a man who died on his final mission, flying his Lancaster bomber home, serving the cause of peace. My Great Uncle John was 21 years old.

I am the wife of a man who served Queen, country and his family by maintaining that peace as an engineer in the Royal Air Force for 22 years.

I am an islander who was brought up on the only landmass in Great Britain to be occupied by the enemy for five long years during the second world war. Guernsey, part of the Channel Islands, who celebrate 75 years of liberation and peace this weekend.

I am a priest who speaks to you this morning on the weekend when we remember the sacrifice, honour the courage, mourn the loss and uphold the peace of a now mostly silent generation.

For We are all the daughters, sons, granddaughters, grandsons, great nieces and nephews of that generation. As time and tide have now silenced them, we must honour their truth and remember by continuing to sing their song:

Peace in our time and for all time.

This is not how this weekend was expected to go.
Town criers crying out for peace,
church bells ringing out for peace,
Street Parties dancing for peace.
Bunting, celebrations, bank holiday, sunshine, barbeques, wine and song,

Me being a home in Guernsey celebrating with friends our 75th Liberation Day singing Sarnia Cherie with a glass of cider in one hand and a slice of buttered gache in the other.

No, this was not how this weekend was meant to be.

75 years ago my home was liberated from the occupation of the Nazi army.

For Five years, every mi-nute part of Islanders lives were controlled by an outside force.
When to leave their homes,
where to go to work,
who was allowed to work
what to read in the papers,
what to listen to on the wireless,
who to socialise with,
where to socialise,
where to pray,
how to pray,
what to pray,
what to eat,
when to eat
what to wear and what time they got up in the morning.

Every. Single. Part. of their lives was controlled.

Then 5 years later on 9th May 1945, HMS Bulldog arrived in St Peter Port, on the Island of Guernsey, and the Nazi forces surrendered unconditionally aboard the vessel at dawn.

British forces landed in Town shortly afterwards and were greeted by crowds of joyous but malnourished islanders singing Our national anthem ‘Sarnia Cherie’:

‘Sarnia-Cherie, Gem of the sea.
Land of my childhood, my heart longs for thee.
Your voice calls me ever, forget thee I’ll never,
Island of beauty, Sarnia Cherie.’

With those words being sung from the harbour wall, Normal life began again.

Today, we commemorate the peace we achieved 75 years ago, ‘the great deliverance’, and now enjoy the freedoms fought for and won through the sacrifice of many silent witnesses. We never gave up and we never despaired.

With Covid, we are now living through our own occupation against an invisible enemy in many similar ways.

For we too are locked down, locked away from normal life. We too endure restrictions upon our liberty but this time it is all for our own good. And we have Netflix and Sainsburys who deliver!

Today, we pray we are past the only peak of this virus, that we will have freedom again, even semi-normal life again and that by our shared and combined actions, simply by staying home, we have protected the NHS, protected our vulnerable especially those who once fought for us and are able to say ‘thanks be to all’ for the peace we will experience again very soon.

75 years ago many silent witnesses lived and died through the war, after the war, that was to end all wars.

Many served King and County and sacrificed all for peace.

Many truly lived out the gospel we have heard read so powerfully this morning from John

‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’

These words resonate now as they resonated then all those years ago.

Many now go out to work every day, working on the front line fighting against an enemy that is invisible.

The people of my grandparent’s generation, the Captain Toms of those days, worked on the front line fighting against an enemy that was visible.

Echos of the past resound in the endless rolling news of our present. We heard it then and we hear it again now.

Stories told to me in my childhood now chime with the stories told to me by my daughter, for I may be a woman who is proud to have all of those connections with our military, but I am also a proud mum of a Mental Health nurse working bravely on her front line.

One day, we will be free to live in a new brave world of continued social distancing and personal restrictions on liberty.

And maybe, what we are living through together will help us to appreciate in a new and unique way what that silent generation endured 75 years ago.

Just as those islanders in the years after the Occupation learnt to trust outsiders again, welcomed back the strangers that were their evacuated children, put up road signs again, spoke of hope again and learnt how to live as an un-occupied free island again.

We too will learn to live outside of our invisible inside occupation, again.

For We are Easter People.

We believe in the fruits of hope and peace and love.

We are chosen and empowered by Jesus to bear that fruit every day of our lives, not just one day in the future but now.

During this weekend when we celebrate peace won and peace sustained, we endeavour to ensure that we, as Easter people and we, as citizens of this planet, create in our own space our own peace.

For as Paul shares with us in Romans if God is for us who is against us. For we have all been affected deeply by the loss of so many people to this virus.

By the time we get our Covid vaccination shots next year, every single one of us will know of someone belonging to someone somewhere who has suffered from it.

This virus affects us globally on an intimate level.
Life affects us all equally, hardship, distress, persecution, famine, viruses, nakedness, peril and the sword affect us all.

And Jesus fully divine and fully human, fully understood this when He told us to love one another.

For the most important thing we can do right now to combat all the perils is to love one another:

Love one another to stay at home
Love one another to go to work on the frontline
Love one another to help a neighbour
Love one another to take an exam online
Love one another to join a team meeting when you are all teamed out
Love one another enough to not hug your friends
Love one another to be still, to take that rest day.
Love one another by financially supporting this week’s Christian Aid week that begins today during its own 75th year since it was created born out of need from British and Irish Churches to support refuges after the Second World War.

For when we love as Jesus loves, nothing separates us from love, not death not life not angels nor rulers not wars not viruses not anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord.

However you are fighting this particular war,
however you choose to celebrate peace in our times,
however you manage your invisible occupation,
however you are living this day,
may you be blessed with everlasting peace
and know that you are loved by the one who made you.

À la perchoïne (Ah lah pershoin – until next time!)

Amen

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