The First Duty of Peace

2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 19
If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Fifteen years ago it was of course the 60th Anniversary of VE Day and we were encouraged to hold services to mark the occasion. I started to make arrangements for the service and a wreath laying at the War Memorial, inviting BB and Scouts among others to parade their flags for the occasion. I then went on to ask the local branch of the British Legion, where I was given a blank refusal of participation. This surprised me, as the Chair of the Legion at the time was a regular churchgoer and a former RSM in the KOSB (in the days when RSMs were RSMs and to be feared). I wondered why but he called round at the Manse and explained that his father, also an RSM, had been in Burma and for him peace and victory did not come until August 15th. We quickly agreed that we would hold a low key service for VE Day and hold the full celebrations on Sunday nearest VJ Day. It is a view I have held with at every significant anniversary since.
There is a quote often erroneously credited to Churchill that goes along the lines of “The last act of war and the first duty of peace is reconciliation”.  Another, credited to Wellington is “Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won”.  No matter the victory the cost of it is immense and it is that investment of life, wealth, and wellbeing that must be repaid, not in crippling restorations as in 1918 but in going forward together, for victory for one always means defeat for another by definition.
My favourite story from May 8 1945 came in the diary of a soldier who had been a young man of 20 then. He and his squad had been sent to the outskirts of a town to guard a couple of essential bridges over a canal in case some ardent Nazi tried to destroy them. Nothing happened, and they amused themselves sitting outside what had been an Inn, helping themselves to the last of the beer stocks. They noticed a German soldier in uniform cycling along the towpath towards them on a very creaky old bike, just as he reached them the pedal sheared off the bike causing him to fall just in front of the squaddies who of course all cheered loudly. The defeated soldier stood up and fixed the diarist with a look and he saw in his eyes not the defeated soldier but a young man like themselves who had served with pride and distinction for his Homeland. The German stooped and lifted the heavy bike clean over his head still looking at the laughing soldiers. For a moment our diarist thought there would be trouble as the German screamed “Das hahrrad ist kaput, ich bin gebrochen, mien land is kaput” “My bike is broken, I am broken, my country is broken”.
But instead of throwing the machine at them as they expected, the German turned and threw the bike forcefully into the canal.  He never looked back but with hunched shoulders continued his journey on foot.
The last line of the diary entry was “Now I knew what victory was. Utter defeat for another”.
We rejoice on the VE Day that we were delivered from the evil that was Nazism, but also give thanks for the years of reconciled peace since then.

Lord God, our loving Father in Heaven, help us to keep alive the memory of those who bought us our freedom by paying the ultimate price.  May we, who are lucky to live in times of peace, make that sacrificial cost worthwhile by ensuring that never again will the World gutter down into total war.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,