Today, on Remembrance Sunday, we all unite in thinking of the many men and women who have sacrificed their lives during war. We stand to honour them and in remembering the horrors they have suffered we hope and pray for a more peaceful future.
As I write this, a Service of Remembrance is taking place at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium where the graves of almost 12,000 soldiers (3/4 of them unidentified) stand in stark whiteness against a blue sky. It was very different 100 years ago when the battle of Passchendaele raged for 100 days under grey rain clouds and in mud that drowned and buried men from across the world.
I visited this place in April and stood amongst the tombstones, read their stories and felt the keen wind blowing across the flat land, trying to imagine the soldiers suffering the cold, the wet, the fear and the utter desperation, never knowing if they would survive the next attempt to gain ground. I wondered if those frightened men would pray in longing and recite the 23rd Psalm – the one that was probably most familiar to them – for it is, more than anything, a psalm of confidence and a prayer of hope.
This simple but deeply spiritual psalm became especially meaningful to me (and my goodness, it sounds trite and pathetic compared with the horror of Passchendaele) when I walked my first long distance walk. The weather was variable and we had to contend with mud and snow and my boots hurt! The route was beautiful through pastures of wild flowers and besides flowing streams but it was very steep at times and I came to rely on my walking sticks which I began to call affectionately ‘my rod and my staff’ – for they comforted me! The words of the psalm accompanied me throughout that long walk and has done so on subsequent ones which have, at times, been even higher and tougher and it has reminded me that God always walks beside me and can transform the scariest, most threatening situations into ones that even though I suffer fear I can feel confidence in God’s presence.
I see so many of our church friends walking with sticks these days and I hope they too see them as their ‘rod and staff’ to comfort them and give them confidence, but perhaps we all need to consider what our rod and staff could be as we walk the way as disciples of Jesus.