Knit one, pray one…
The Reverend Samantha Ferguson
Readings: Job 19:21-27; John 6:37-40
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
Today, this week, this month and this year it has all been about choosing a side.
For lockdown, against lock down, for writing that essay or for watching Strictly, for Trump or for Biden, for wearing a poppy or against wearing a poppy.
Sides have to be chosen and choices have to be made.
As you can see I am definitely in the wear poppy camp but for the other matters we have all been talking about this week well maybe politics and religion should not be mixed especially today. God Bless America
For today the choice is clear,
We are here to remember with thanksgiving those of members of our armed forces who gave their lives so I could stand here and debate with you openly the freedoms we take for granted every single day of our lives.
This was a choice that these names behind me made.
The choice to follow orders, follow the will of one who sent them in the pursuit of peace.
These names, who like you, were young people, just at their start of their lives who heard the call to defend their country, to uphold peace and democracy, who responded and tragically lost their lives in the ultimate sacrifice. They truly did the will of the ones who sent them.
We have the names of those who choose to do the will of another but there were thousands of men who died unknown and unnamed in the fields far from their homeland.
One of them, the unknown warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey 100 years ago this week.
And on his tomb it states that he gave the most that man can give life itself for God, king and country, loved ones and the sacred cause of justice and freedom of the world.
That is why young men such as he chose to fight and made the ultimate sacrifice. And we are able to honour that choice by remembering him and all the others right here right now.
We are able to remember in person but with the war on covid many will only be able to remember in spirit.
Now some people choose to believe that services of remembrance such as ours today do not honour our war dead but glorify war.
That is their choice, and they can make it and freely state it because these young men behind me did what they did over 100 years ago for this generation.
I do not believe that today glorifies war but does something more important for all of us.
It helps us to remember why those men and women made the choice to fight in the wars that were not of their making.
Why they made the decision that freedom and peace were worth fighting and potentially losing their lives for. That is what we remember and honour today, their choice.
So I must confess my bias in my choices when it comes to remembrance Sunday.
Every year at the start of the month of November I pin three things to my black tippet – yes this is what this is called.
The first is a pin, my RAF Wings, given to me by my Husband on the day that he passed out, that means graduated, from basic training.
We were both 19 and at the start of our military adventure together.
His parents and I hadn’t seen Scott for 8 long weeks during which he really went from a boy to a man until his passing out parade.
He gave me these wings as a promise and a token of his commitment to me and to his service as an engineer in the RAF that would last 22 years.
I have worn it with pride and love over the last 30 years and I will wear it for the rest of my life.
The second pin is one that was my grandfather Frederick Bickerton and is the LST which stands for Landing Ship Tank and Landing Craft Association.
This pin commemorates those Sailors and Royal Marines of the British Royal Navy who manned the landing ships and landing craft during the liberation of Europe in 1944 at Dunkirk.
And he was one of them who came home. His 21-year-old brother, my great uncle, a RAF Lancaster bomber pilot called John did not.
The final item is my remembrance poppy.
This was given to me by a elderly lady about 12 years ago in the early days of my ministry as an ordained deacon.
During my curacy in Torry in Aberdeen, which is the training period for anyone who is ordained before they let you loose on your own church, I began a craft group in a sheltered housing complex next door to the church I was serving.
Every week 20 elderly women would join me and my balls of wool knitting squares so we could sew them together to make blankets for the homeless.
We made many many blankets.
It was a time of tea and lots of cake, socialising and laughter, and many stories told about what it was like during the war living in Aberdeen.
Because what I hadn’t realised, was that Aberdeen was one of the most bombed cities in the UK, dubbed Siren City after all the constant unabating air raids between 1940 and 1943.
And so We called the group Knit One Pray One.
It was great fun and it reminded me of being with my own grandparents listening to their war stories.
One day a man joined us who was new to the complex.
Edward was a quiet thoughtful man who would just sit and have a cup of tea with us. He came for about four weeks and kept looking at the piano we kept in the corner.
Finally, I asked him if he played.
Oh yes he said, but I can’t read music – would you mind if I played.
He told us the story of how he was a royal marine in the war and when he had shore leave, he would go find a bar and start playing show tunes to earn his beer money.
He had played his music in those bars while the world around him burned – His words.
And so Edward began to play for us as we knitted and the old 1940s war tunes and musicals surrounded us as he serenaded myself and my friends.
And the ladies started singing along, softly at first and then loudly. Remember singing?
Edward came every week for those two years I ran the group and played for them.
It bought him comfort that he could offer us something and brought my ladies comfort as they remembered a time when they were young, when they had a common purpose, when what they did, the choices they made, mattered.
I did a special remembrance service for them and one of the ladies gave me this poppy broach and I have warn it every Remembrance Day ever since.
I only wish they would have known about knitting the wonderful poppies you see in our service sheets today.
Many of those ladies are dead now along with their memories of that time when they were as old as you and wise far beyond their years.
These three pins sum up for me in a trinity of remembrance what today is all about.
This year is the 75 anniversaries of the end of the Second World War and even though few remain of those who fought that war and survived, the echoes of that event still resound deep within each one of us.
Many of us will have had heard the family stories about grandparents and great grandparents who lived or maybe even died during that dark time.
Many of us have instinctively returned and embodied that war spirit when finding a way through the war we are fighting with covid at this present time.
Many of us may even of picked up our knitting needles again and revived knit one pray one in our own unique ways over the days of that first lockdown.
However we choose to remember those who were sacrificed in war today, we must always remember that our scripture readings from today call us all to look at the examples of the faithful, to honour them by remembering them, to engrave their deeds on that rock and to be more like them.
Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who sadly died yesterday once stated that this is the ‘responsibility of remembrance’ for the next generation. For us to bear.
For those scriptures we heard today call us all to remember that the good will be rewarded, that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice will be repaid.
They also remind us that when people such as Edward, my ladies and our grandparents made the choices they did, either to fight or even not to fight, they made them because peace was always in their hearts and they will never lose that peace as they sleep in their well earned eternal rest.
Let us pray at the end of one week, when tough choices had to be made, and, at the start of another, when we remember and honour the tough choices others have made that led to the ultimate sacrifice, that our war dead will continue to be honoured and that we, and all people, may choose to always uphold the sacred cause of justice and freedom of the world.
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
we will remember them.
We will remember them. Amen