During the summer on a trip to London, I paid a visit to the Tower of London to view the art installation ‘Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red’. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, 888,246 ceramic poppies have been progressively placed in the Tower's famous moat over the summer. Each poppy represents a British military fatality during the war. The inspiration for the display came from a line in the will of a Derbyshire man who joined up in the earliest days of the war and died in Flanders. Knowing that everyone was dead and he was surrounded by blood, the man wrote: 'The Blood Swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.'
The installation is quite stunning and I am so pleased we got to see it. It is one of a number of initiatives marking the Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, a war during which on average more than 5,600 combatants were killed for each day the war lasted; a total in excess of 8,600,000. Such a staggeringly monumental loss of life is only the start of the suffering the war created. Millions more wounded and shell shocked; the pain of families getting on with life without their loved ones; millions of civilians killed, wounded or driven from their homes. Anything that causes us to remember and in remembering, pledge ourselves and our nation to cherish peace, is significant and worthwhile.
Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red is visually arresting. As you are held in its grip, so there are precious moments to reflect. Each individual’s reflection will be slightly different, as each ceramic poppy, representing an individual life, is different to any other. For me it was a moment to reflect on the fact that each poppy represented one life and that many of those lives were of ordinary working men, many of them very young, who answered the call on behalf of their nation and sacrificed their lives. If I had been born 60 years earlier, would I, like my Grandfather, have decided that it was an exciting and honourable thing to answer that call? Who knows? So, I remembered and reflected on sacrifice. And, as I always do, I recalled the words of Jesus shortly before his own sacrificial death, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Those who know about these things say that in the heat of battle a soldier is not fighting for a cause, or for good against evil, or for his nation, but he or she is fighting for their comrades, their friends, their brothers and sisters in arms.
In church we do our remembering through bread and wine, remembering the friend who gave his life for us and on whose sacrifice we depend, the one who came to where angels fear to tread and shared our life and death. What a friend we have in Jesus!
Grace and Peace