Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Sermon for Battle of Britain Sunday

The Sunday closest to September 15th is traditionally known as Battle of Britain Sunday. I had the opportunity to offer a few words Sunday afternoon at a ceremony hosted by the local chapter of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association. The text I used came from the lectionary for this Sunday:

Mark 9:30-37
they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Today we remember a small group of aircrew who have become collectively known as “The Few”, from the famous tribute of Winston Churchill, that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. Who were “the few”? They were, for the most part, young men. In the old black and white photographs, they look very young indeed, confident in their strength and sense of invulnerability, as young men are. They came from Britain and occupied Europe, and a few of the few came from places such as Montreal and Winnipeg, from Vernon BC and Rosthern, Saskatchewan.

Over the space of one summer, a time of year and a time of life when they should have been dating and riding motorcycles and playing sports, these young men fought to the death against an experienced and well trained German air force. Flying as many as four sorties a day, pushed to the limits of exhaustion, they held the line in the air, and saved the British nation from a terrible slavery. Had they failed, it’s difficult to imagine how freedom and democracy could ever have been restored to the peoples of Europe. If ever a battle saved the world, this battle was it.

Just as our young men in Afghanistan are paying a physical and psychological cost today, so these young aircrew paid a great price in their own battle. One father remembered how his pilot son was consumed in body and spirit by the fighting:

He was a changed lad, time took care of that taking him from a young man with a bright future before the war to a man that seemed full of hatred, he said that he felt as if he was a human killing machine and said that if he ever dies, then put on his headstone "Here Lies Another Human Killing Machine”. On leave he could not sleep, or he would scream out in the night. How he died we will never know, he went out on a mission, and never came back, and that's the sad part, we do not even have a grave where we know that he is at last resting in peace.

As I think of the scripture reading I shared with you just now, I draw comfort from that thought that the same God who took children into his lap must sorrow to see how war tears young men out of their childhood. I take comfort in believing that God was there to catch these aircrew who, in the words of the poem High Flight, touched His face in their final moments.

In this scripture reading, we also heard our Lord say that “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” This handful of aircrew flew for the sake of many – the people of Britain and of the occupied countries waiting to be freed. And as we in the Air Force know, they could not fly without the support of many others. When we think of “The Few” we must also remember armourers, refuellers, engineers, fitters, mechanics, ground crews, radar operators, plotters, wireless operators, members of the Observer Corps, anti-aircraft gunners, barrage balloon operators, civilian utility workers, many of whom worked and died at their trades as the bombs fell on their airfields. These men and women show an air force that knew how to work together, and they teach us the truth of our Wing’s motto, “Operate as One”. We depend on one another, just as they did.

Today let us remember these examples of courage and self-sacrifice that are such an important part of our Air Force tradition. Let us remember that we too are called in our own time to stand as the few against forces of darkness and evil. Just as our grandfathers flew against the darkness of Nazi tyranny, and just as our fathers flew through the Cold War to preserve peace, so we play our own part against terror and chaos. We still have too few airframes. We still have too few personnel. We are still stretched too thin. We still have the same God, who is faithful and trustworthy. To his love and power we entrust those young men who never flew home, and we ask his blessing on this Wing as we continue to be servants of one another and of the people we protect. Amen.

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Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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