Blessed are the peacemakers

Last weekend was the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb. At 10.43am on 8 November 1987, as people were gathered at the town’s cenotaph for the Remembrance Day service, the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb. The explosion killed 11 people and injured 64. One of those who died was a 20-year-old nurse, Marie Wilson, who was with her father Gordon. As they lay buried under rubble Gordon held Marie’s hand as she told him, “Daddy, I love you very much.”

In an interview soon after the bombing Gordon Wilson said, “I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She’s dead. She’s in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night.” One historian said, “No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact.”

Gordon also pleaded that no Loyalists take revenge for Marie’s death and, until he died in 1995 at the age of 67, Gordon campaigned for peace and an end to the violence. When he was voted Man of the Year by the BBC’s Today programme, ahead of world-famous figures, Gordon said, “I’m not worthy of it. The others are very important people. I’m not in their class. I’m just an ordinary guy.”

We still live in a violent world and, at times, it may seem as if the terrorists have the power, but in reality it is extraordinary “ordinary” people like Gordon Wilson whose example and influence will ultimately triumph. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Gordon’s personal faith in Jesus as his Saviour and Lord was the source of his strength and his hope. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. When he died on the Cross he made a way of peace for sinful people like us all. In that apparently weak act God reconciled the world to himself and provided the way in which we can all experience forgiveness and know peace with him. Gordon was right. He and Marie have indeed been reunited in heaven in the presence of Jesus who has wiped every tear from their eyes.

We will remember them

Remembrance Day is a deeply significant day as people around the world stand in silence to remember the millions of people who died in the great wars of the 20th century. The First World War ended at 11 o’clock on 11 November 1918. It was hoped that this would be “the war to end all wars”, but sadly this was not fulfilled. Because it was felt that the dead should be honoured, King George V initiated a two minute silence at exactly 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month to commemorate those who had died for their country.

In recent years we have also remembered the service men and women who are still dying in conflicts around the world. A short time after Remembrance Day services had been held in Afghanistan another British soldier was killed. 438 British soldiers have died in that campaign. 2012 also marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, when 255 armed forces and Merchant Navy personnel died, as well as 649 Argentinians and 3 islanders. Because many who die in war are young people, at Remembrance services someone says, “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.”

In a world in which war and conflict, death and bereavement are daily realities, many people seek for comfort, strength and hope. In a wonderful way Jesus Christ is able to meet us at our point of deepest need. He was a young man who was committed to winning a great victory, whatever the personal cost to himself. He told his disciples, “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus knew that he could only win life and peace for people from all nations by dying on the Cross. He offered his life willingly. He said, “No-one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” On the third day after he died, he rose from the dead.

Remembering can be very painful and even traumatic, especially for those who have survived. We need someone who is great enough and good enough to help us. We must never forget that Jesus is a living Lord. He comes alongside us in our sadness and, through his resurrection triumph, offers us comfort, strength and hope.

We will Remember Them

For the first time this year the Remembrance Day Service took place without a veteran of World War I. In May, the world’s last known combat veteran of that war, Claude Choules, died in Australia aged 110. It is right that we remember the World Wars of the 20th century which wrought a terrible toll on our nation and on the world. More than 5 million men from Britain served in World War 1 and 44% were either killed or wounded. During World War II more than 60 million people died, 2.5% of the world’s population, including 450,000 British soldiers and civilians.

Remembrance Day is a deeply emotional experience for the veterans as they remember the terrible events of the wars in which they fought. Many of the young men involved in the D-Day landings have never spoken about what they experienced as they saw their friends killed and maimed. It is moving to see these, now elderly men, marching with great dignity as they remember their fallen comrades. Sadly, they are now joined by a younger generation of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who remember their colleagues who have died.

The men and women who died in the great wars of the last century offered the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives in the hope that future generations might live in peace and security. The epitaph carved on the memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery in Kohima, Nagaland, is a moving challenge, “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow we gave our today.” It is right that we remember them.

Christians remember a young man who died, not in war, but on a Cross. On the night before he went to the Cross Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. He took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took a cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Jesus is the hope of the world. His death and resurrection tower over the sorrows and tragedies of history. Because of him a day will surely come when “they shall neither harm nor destroy, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”