Posted on: Thursday 22 November 2018
Posted in: Anglican Faith Connections
This week saw the last chapel services for the year. It was also the week after the centenary of the signing of the armistice which brought silence to the guns of World War 1. Moreover, it is only a few weeks until the celebration of Christmas. It was this coalescence of two occasions that became the theme of our services.
The link between these two important days I found in a Sainsbury commercial for 2014 on YouTube. It was a re-enactment of the Christmas truce of 1914. This was an impromptu truce held on a very small part of the frontlines on the Western Front that stretched from Switzerland to the English Channel. On Christmas Eve, the German troops had decorated their trenches with Christmas trees and lights and had begun to sing Christmas carols. One carol was sung in particular – Silent Night.
This carol was written in the middle of the nineteenth century and had spread to Britain. As the Germans sang in their language, so the British soldiers sang in English. The tune remained the same but the words differed. It was almost as if the carol was sung in harmony and not by soldiers of opposing armies. Next day soldiers of both sides climbed out of their trenches and exchanged Christmas greetings and even indulged in a football match. The truce lasted all Christmas Day but then the war began once more. Such a Christmas truce was not attempted again throughout the war; probably because the officers of both sides feared a renewal of such a truce would reduce the effectiveness of their troops. So, just once, the common humanity of the troops overcame their conditioning as soldiers.
As they climbed out of their trenches and set out across no-man’s land, the soldiers of both sides were heading not for enemy combatants but fellow human beings and, in most cases, fellow Christians. It was this point of their common humanity which brought them together.
Much later at the end of the war, it was this shared humanity which was seen in that part of the Versailles Treaty which established the League of Nations – an organisation which it was hoped would replace nationalism with international cooperation. Certainly, it failed as World War 2 showed, but in its failure lay the seeds for the far more successful United Nations. Moreover, this common humanity is reflected in the title most often used for Jesus in Mark’s Gospel as “the Son of Man” and the peace of that 1914 truce bears witness to the title given to Jesus by the angels at his birth as the “Prince of Peace.”
The 1914 truce also shows that real peace is not found in the cessation of warfare but when the hearts of us all are turned to the paths of peace and not just the hearts of a few.
Fr Patrick Duckworth