Shortly after 5am on November 11th 1918, on a rail siding just outside Clairière in the carriage of Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch – the Compiègne Wagon – a piece of paper was signed. At 11am on that day silence blanketed the battlefields, gunfire dying away, as the unfamiliar and eerie sounds of peace returned to Europe. One hundred years later we stand in silence to remember this Armistice Day.
It was meant to be the War to End all Wars. But it wasn’t. On 22 June 1940, riding in a Mercedes-Benz 770 swathed withswastikas, Hitler and his commanders stormed into Clairière, returning to the very same carriage which had been set up as a memorial. There the surrender armistice from France was signed.
Despite the pain it causes, we as a species seem to have violent conflict wired within us. It is not for nothing that we say that the doctrine of original sin is the most empirically provable aspect of Christian belief. Of the past 3,400 years of recorded history, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history. At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century. It is right that we take a day to remember the horror of war on November 11th so that we might by all efforts avoid future war, taking the paths of peace. In a world where national identity is growing it is more important than ever to hold before our eyes the damage that war causes, and hear the stories of loss, that we might not glorify armed conflict.
At the same time as showing us the depth of our sin, war also shows us an image of sacrifice. Whilst war shows us at our worst, it also shows the actions of self-sacrifice that people can make for the good of others. There is here an acknowledgement that in a world of enmity, violence and pervasive sin, peace and reconciliation can only come through sacrifice. Peace can only come by some dying instead of others: people who lay down their lives in the hope that it will bring life to many. The necessity of such sacrifice is wired as deep within us as our brokenness which leeches out into war; and so as we remember we honour those who gave up everything in the hope of bringing peace.
By remembering we hope to avoid future wars by recalling the horror of war, learning from history that many wars have been avoidable. By remembering we recall our need for a saviour, given that we aren’t capable of curing the violence buried deep within. By remembering we recall that it is by sacrifice that peace comes – just as Jesus restores peace with God through his death on the cross.
I hope that you will join with us this year to mark this momentous occasion of 100 years since Armistice Day on November 11th, as we stand in silence to remember.