Hymns and war – conflicting views

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In placing these two recent hymns for Remembrance Sunday / Veterans’ Day (USA) on Singing the Faith Plus, it is clear that singing about war within a context of worship, and remembering by hymns members of the armed forces who have died in war, continues to be a contentious issue.

For many, the opportunity to mark these memories before God says something important about our respect for the sacrifice of individuals and our humility in the face of God’s vision of creation. It may also be a ceremony that resonates with our recent Christian commemoration of those who have gone before us at All Saints.

However, there are others who admit to struggling with the concept of selfless sacrifice in this context. “I always have trouble with Remembrance Sunday and try to be busy somewhere else that day”, says one writer.

Which, for some, makes Gareth Hill’s We stand for brave and selfless friends a hard sing, with its strong emphasis on self-sacrifice.

One ex-serviceman writes:

“I struggle with mixing remembering fallen comrades with my faith as a Christian. I appreciated why people fight for a cause/country/freedom as I did and it is commendable that service personnel do give the ultimate sacrifice. However, in my experience, most do not do so for the love of Christ or God but for each other and their country or the greater good.”

Perhaps, for some, the way in which Andrew Pratt (Once crimson poppies bloomed) broadens our acts of remembrance into an acknowledgement of continuing conflict and our prayer for peace speaks more meaningfully.

For in this present time
we wait in vain for peace,
each generation cries,
each longing for release,
while war still plagues the human race
and families seek a hiding place.

Fred Kaan is even more forthright: God! As with silent hearts we bring to mind / how hate and war diminish humankind…” (StF 698).

But for another reader of Gareth Hill’s text, this is “a gentle and yet realistic assessment of what we do on Remembrance Day… I personally feel the hymn does not glorify war, but acknowledges the ultimate sacrifice one can give – while we can still be free to query the rightness of the conflict. I like the gentle way it leads to Christ and new creation in the last two verses.” And another reader of the hymn, though no lover of Remembrance Sunday, is nevertheless struck by Gareth’s description of “the warring in our souls”.

For alternative Remembrance Sunday hymns search by Special Sundays in the search engine (see right). Also see Remembering conflict – singing for peace.

Categories: Articles, Big questions, Special Sundays and weeks, StF+ hymn articles, Worship Resources.

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