Ken's Pastoral Letter for June
It was a great privilege earlier this month, on Saturday the 15th , to gather at the cenotaph in Uppermill, at nine o’clock in the morning, with Rev John Rosedale, team vicar with pastoral charge of St Thomas’s in Delph, and three members of the local branch of the Royal British Legion: Alison, chairperson and on this occasion standard-bearer, Joe, branch secretary and Jackie, branch treasurer and also on this occasion photographer and camera operator, and to mark together in a short act of remembrance and thanksgiving the centenary of the formation of the Legion.
On its website the RBL tells us that: The Royal British Legion is there to support serving and ex-serving personnel all year round, every day of the week. It helps members of the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force and their families. Their support begins after one day of service and continues through life, long after service is over.
For John, who served in the RAF, and for myself, a TA soldier in the Royal Army Medical Corps for almost 14 years, this is a cause close to our hearts. And it is a cause close to the hearts of the general public I believe. Anyone can readily appreciate the need for a modern army, navy and air force, even if that need is lamentable in what are supposedly enlightened times; and even if it is indicative of the failure of diplomacy whenever armed forces have to be deployed. We all appreciate, I hope, the contribution of those who volunteer to fight so that we won’t have to. The Legion exists to look after such, and their families, when they return from the fight no longer able to properly look after themselves.
There are many obvious similarities between serving soldiers and serving disciples. TA soldiers in my day were issued with a personal copy of MOD Form AC63515 FIELD SERVICE BOOK. In this manual, small enough to fit into the pocket of a field jacket, were hymns, prayers, bible readings, creeds, shortened forms of services, including communion and burial, and guidance notes on the Christian faith. One of my favourite prayers included therein was that of St Ignatius, which might have been written for a soldier:
‘Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do thy will. Amen.’
This prayer is not only one of my favourites but whenever I actually pray it, rather than just read it for inspiration, it challenges me to my core: do I labour for love of Him or am I seeking a reward? Do I give freely of my time, energies and money or am I continually counting the cost? Do I toil and not seek for rest – admittedly not perhaps the healthiest of outlooks in the modern world, but nonetheless the spirit of what is being said is clear - or am I always seeking to remind people of my rights and hesitant to go the distance in service of others?
And finally, do I fight and refuse to heed the wounds? That is do I love as He loved? We have been reading recently in our lectionary texts that the world will only know that we are His disciples if we love one another. This we can only do in his strength since of course it is natural to suppose that we are not all loveable! The truth is, like as not, that I am unlovely to you and you are unlovely to me.
To love as He loves us is to lay down our lives in service for others – to put them always before ourselves. To realise that if I am still growing and immature in faith then likely so are they and that not everything said thoughtlessly therefore is meant unkindly and not everything done inconsiderately is done deliberately. We are on the same side, and like soldiers in battle, though we fight for king and country, when up against it and engaging with the enemy we fight for each other, for the man or woman at our side. As Christians we can only acquire the strength for this through close communion with Him. For all our gracious words we immediately betray our lack of close communion with Him when our less than gracious behaviour demonstrates this for all to see - and no one is actually fooled! Many people wound us unintentionally, but even deliberate slights are expected to be brushed off by Christians. ‘If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ [Matthew 5:39b]
I am constantly humbled by stories of service personnel returning from battle with terrible wounds who after life-saving surgery rebuild their lives, sometimes as multiple amputees, and give themselves anew to the service of others, even championing their cause by carrying out extraordinary athletic feats that even those of us with all our limbs would struggle to achieve. Truly these men and women have fought and refused to heed the wounds! Instead of feeling sorry for themselves they re-join the fight in the only way they can and soldier on regardless. Can I be as good a Christian as these men and women are soldiers? I can strive in His strength. We can strive together in His strength. Whenever I stand at the cenotaph I am humbled by these men and women. Let us then, like them, carry the fight to the enemy and look out for each other. Onward Christian soldiers!
Yours always in Christian love.