The text of my address at the WWI Commemoration Service held at St John’s Church, Brigg on Sunday 3rd August 2014
The students and staff of Sir John Nelthorpe School are to be highly commended for a significant contribution to the Centenary Commemorations of WWI so far as this community is concerned, and we’re delighted that some of those students could be with us today. For your information a 50-minute documentary entitled “In the Footsteps of the Fallen”, and produced by the students, may now be seen in a private viewing room in the North Lincolnshire Museum, Scunthorpe. But, nearer to home you are invited to a display of still photos, and a slide presentation, in the Church Hall after this service, along with light refreshments.
I’ve been doing some serious wracking (or maybe that should be fracking) of my brain to find something relevant and different to share with you on this occasion, and I’d like for a few moments to take you out on a limb. In the early years of my ministry (mid to late 1970s) I recall reading a biographical work entitled “The Beloved Evangelist”, where I came across a fascinating incident which occurred in July 1914, a matter of weeks before our nation became embroiled in the War. The setting was a Baptist Chapel in Llanelly in South Wales. It was a Sunday evening and a service was in full swing when suddenly a vision appeared on the wall behind the preacher. The vision remained visible for a period of six hours, and could be seen even when the lights were turned out. Observers were convinced it was no trick of the light. Crowds, numbering hundreds, gathered to witness this – many out of curiosity, many renowned as unbelievers, who, it is stated, came to mock, but stayed to pray. Witnesses noted that the vision began as the face of a Lamb, but then turned into the face of a man – a man evidently weeping.
The phenomenon was reported in the Llanelli Guardian on 16th July 1914, and that report can be accessed today on the Internet. It included an interview with Stephen Jeffreys, the preacher that evening, and the subject of the afore-mentioned book, who reportedly said: “My back was turned to the portion of the wall where the vision appeared and my attention was drawn to it by some of the congregation who were spellbound to see the face of our Lord standing boldly out of the wall. There was no mistaking the appearance: it was the Man of Sorrows, looking on us, with ineffable love, and compassion shining out of his wonderful eyes. The effect upon us was one that will never be forgotten by any who were privileged to behold it. It remained on the wall for hours after the service closed and we kept the building open in order that all should have the opportunity of witnessing this wonderful revelation.”
An ‘interpretation’ given for this vision is offered in “The Beloved Evangelist”, I quote: “…this was both a warning concerning the Great War, which broke out in August of that same year, less than a month later … and also indicated something of Jesus Christ’s deep concern (and compassion) over the coming conflict and human suffering”
Perhaps, to our cynical 21st century ears this sounds improbable … BUT then again, even with all our wonderful advances in science and technology, perhaps we might learn something of profound importance from this strange happening:
May this clearly indicate that God, the Creator of the Universe, is not remote from or unmoved by, human adversity. Indeed, rightly understood, the message of Jesus Christ is that God fully identifies with us in our human limitations and afflictions – and that Jesus Himself embodies the compassion of God towards mankind.
James E Loder writes: “Jesus is what God means by true humanity, and God revealed in Jesus is what God means by God”. There is every evidence that in His earthly ministry Jesus was deeply moved by the sufferings of others, touched with the plight of those regarded as untouchable, and shed tears along with those experiencing bereavement.
This is perfectly summarised in the lines of a hymn we had at Morning Praise earlier today:
I have borne my peoples pain.
I have wept for love of them.
So, as we remember and honour those who, with selfless sacrifice and courage, helped to preserve our freedoms, at the same time my plea is that we do not forget, or cut ourselves off from the One, whose love, mercy and grace is capable of making a vast difference in all the extremities of human misery.
May we pray …
“Our Heavenly Father, forgive us when we judge you as harsh or distant from our suffering.
Help us to see in Christ your compassion, and so draw strength from You in our own hour of need, through His Holy and Matchless Name,