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The Grave of the Unknown Warrior

Services and acts of Remembrance have been severely restricted this year, but last week Queen Elizabeth went to Westminster Abbey for a deeply personal service at the grave of the Unknown Warrior. The Queen laid a floral tribute based on her wedding bouquet on the grave. After their weddings both she and her mother had laid their wedding bouquets on the grave.

The Grave of the Unknown Warrior was inspired by the Rev. David Railton, who, while serving as a chaplain on the Western Front during the First World War, saw a grave marked by a rough cross and a pencil-written note saying: ‘An Unknown British Soldier.’ After the war he wrote to the Dean of Westminster, Herbert Ryle, proposing that a memorial to the fallen with no known grave should lie among the kings and national heroes in the Abbey. King George V and the Prime Minister David Lloyd George supported the proposal. The body was chosen from unknown British servicemen who had been exhumed from four battle areas, the Somme, the Aisne, Arras and Ypres. On 11 November 1920 the coffin, draped with a Union Flag, was taken to Westminster Abbey where, as it was buried, King George V dropped a handful of earth from France on it.

The grave was topped with a tombstone in black Belgian marble. The inscription on the tombstone reads, “Beneath this stone rests the body of a British Warrior unknown by name or rank brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day 1920. Thus, are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914-1918 gave the most that man can give, life itself, for God, for King and country, for loved ones, home and empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world. They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house.”

Around the main inscription are four verses from the New Testament. “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” “Greater love hath no man than this.” “Unknown and yet well known, dying and behold we live.” “In Christ shall all be made alive.” These verses remind us that no-one is unknown to God. Tragically, some great and celebrated people seem to give little thought to God. But apparently insignificant of people, from all nations, who call on him will one day hear the King of kings say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

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Finding God when we fail

In 2011 the Coalition Government in Britain defined what they saw as fundamental British values. Schools are now at the forefront of promoting “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” The values are all important, but are they succeeding in making us more tolerant of other people?

Whilst we all know that others must make allowances for our failings, the standards we demand of others are very high. We don’t tolerate failure. Politicians who fall short must resign. Heads of large organisations, both private and public, must be held to account for the failings of everyone under them. Managers of football teams who do not deliver the success the owners and supporters demand are sacked. Yet all who resign, or are sacked, are replaced by equally fallible people!

Jesus gave special encouragement to those who had failed. He was severely criticised, and ultimately condemned to die, by self-righteous, hypocritical religious leaders. They were extremely intolerant of those who failed to keep the man-made rules they had imposed. But people who knew they had failed by breaking God’s commands were drawn to Jesus. He gave them hope of forgiveness and a new beginning.

Jesus told them a story to show what God, his heavenly Father, is really like. He is wonderfully gracious and offers us a second chance when we seriously fail and mess up. In the story a son rebelled against his father, took his share of the family inheritance and went to a distant country where he threw himself into wild living. He denied himself no pleasure but soon spent all his money and was struggling to survive. Then he came to his senses and realised he had to go back to his father and admit that he had sinned against him and against God.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son.” But his father said to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet and kill the fattened calf. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.”

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Thought

Rich in Faith

Brazil is a country of great contrasts. It has a rapidly growing economy, which is now the sixth largest in the world, just behind Britain. I have been staying in Manaus, an increasingly prosperous city and the capital of Amazonas. The city stands where the 2 main branches of the Amazon meet, the Solimoes, with its brown water, and the Negro, with its black water. A magnificent new road bridge across the Amazon has recently been opened which is 4 miles long. Many multi-national companies have opened factories in Manaus where people are paid good wages. New luxury housing developments are being built and new shopping centres selling high quality goods. There is a general feeling of prosperity.

Yesterday, however, I went to visit a family living on a piece of ground close to the international airport. They live in a very small wooden house no bigger than a garden shed. Heavy rain had fallen that morning and the roof was not waterproof. They have 4 children aged from 18 to 6 years old. Their eldest son has malaria. They have no supply of clean water and their furniture is very simple. The husband earns small amounts of money by collecting used drink cans and selling them to the recyclers. They are very poor and daily life is hard. The children smiled as we arrived and gave them some simple gifts. They go to school, but it will be very difficult for them to escape the poverty and deprivations of their situation.

When we look at the contrasting lives of rich and poor people in this world it seems as if the rich have everything and the poor have nothing, but this is not the whole truth. The Bible says, “God has chosen those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who love him.” The mother of the poor family attends a small church and knows Jesus as her Saviour. Every day she prays that God will meet her needs and those of her family. God has answered her prayers. She is thankful for the daily gifts he gives her and the love of those he sends to help her and her family. She knows that one day her Saviour will return to this world in glory and all things will be made new! She is really looking forward to that day and to receiving her eternal inheritance.