Thursday, 9 January 2014

Awa wi it! - reflections on Christmas Eve.

Auld makars’ clarsach-pluck
wis fine at shawin
wars eemage
                        sae enviably braw:
lang merches-
                                        tae a choir and a baun!
The lasses gawp
                               at the gowd uniform.
Through smilin moothies,
                                          een in constellations,
hussars gang furrit
                                 in whiskert formations.
Prance through the fecht-
                                             and soon
                                                             ye’ll be vaunty
wi epaulettes
                        and pips
                                       and the gift o hauf a county
But  dee
                 if ye like
                                   on the on-ding o cannon-
the future’s ay
                        a daub haun
                                                at the cenotaphin.
            and even the-day
                                           there’s some will champ
at the rhymer’s bit,
                                 and lee
                                                like the faither o lees:
Clad in beauty,
                          men of beauty’s stamp
carried their bodies……”

Braw is it? Danke schőn for the harp………..

Part of a poem (Doloi!) written in 1929 by Vladimir Mayakovsky and translated into Scots by Edwin Morgan. This sprung to mind on hearing that next year the British Government is arranging that we should ‘commemorate’ the centenary of outbreak of the Great War. Both my grandfather and my wife’s grandfather fought, and were casualties, but fortunately both survived. Neither, I suspect, would be rushing to participate in the rather tasteless Rally planned to take place this coming August. If anything is worth commemorating it is Christmas 1914 where on Christmas Eve a wonderful thing occurred when battle-weary soldiers in one trench began singing;

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft, einsam wacht……”

Enemies on the opposite trench, answered by singing,

“Still the night holy the night!
Sleeps the world, hid from sight……”

Artillery stopped firing and rifles were put down. The Spirit of Christ was all pervasive and paradoxically, Peace reigned amidst scenes of carnage. Foes became friends. It was a prophetic moment, a foretaste of the Prince of Peace returning to a war-wrecked bleeding earth, as Lord of Lord and King of Kings, much to the dismay of discomfited generals, Kaisers, Tsars and King Emperors! They made sure it never happened again.

But for a moment prophecy became history: 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more'. The heart-cry on both sides was: "Even so, come Lord Jesus".  This was continued the following day with the famous football match and the exchange of food, drink and tobacco.

The Church has declared that all war is antagonistic to the mind of Christ and she can have no part in it, if commending the Gospel. War cannot be justified by Christian ethics. It is fundamentally unclean and can usually be reduced to a greed for gain. Lies and camouflage are used to inculcate false values, it exploits the brave and heroic instincts in people but it is fundamentally brutal and beastly, leaving in its wake, as Mayakovsky says later on in the same poem- misery, woe and mutilation. War is proven fallaciousness and fraud.

All this in no way detracts from the sacrifice made by those who fell. What we  commemorate and remember is not the start of this European Civil War in August 1914, but we honour all sides for their devotion, while remembering the interest of the Church, the fulfillment of prophecy and the Spirit and commands of our Lord and Saviour.

At the end of Sunset Song in the epilude, 'The Unfurrowed Field', the Standing Stone is dedicated as a war memorial for the four local casualties. Underneath is the verse from Revelation 2:28, 'For I will give you the morning star'.

The final paragraph of the minister’s address is pertinent to us today:

 So lest we shame them, let us believe that the new oppressions and foolish greeds are no more than mists that pass. They died for a world that is past,but these men did not die for this that we seem to inherit. Beyond it and us shines a greater hope and a newer world undreamt when those four died. But need we doubt which side the battle they would range themselves did they live today, need we doubt the answer they cry to us even now, the four of them from the place of sunset?

If the Government has spare cash and wishes to commemorate the beginning of wars there are a number of Zambian veterans who loyally served the Crown in the Colonial Armed Forces on whom it could be better spent.

As it is Christmas Eve I close with the bidding prayer offered at the start of the Service of 9 Lessons with Carols from King’s College, Cambridge.

Beloved in Christ , be it this Christmas tide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mid to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, and the babe lying in a manger.

As we do, let us remember still the need for peace on earth and goodwill amongst all his peoples and the troubled spots in our world. In Africa, especially South Sudan, Egypt and Chad, in the Middle East, Syria, Israel and Palestine and on the Indian sub-Continent, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Wishing you all the blessings of a joyous Christmas.

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