Rev. Andrew Cunnington
11th November 2018
Making Peace From The Trappings Of War

Five hundred Italian prisoners of war found themselves being marched all the way to Scotland.

And from there to the wild uninhabited island of Lamb Holm in the Orkneys.

By all accounts the prisoners were treated well but they were set the backbreaking task of building barriers between the islands to prevent a naval invasion.

Far away from home these exiles asked if they might build a chapel to worship in and permission was granted.

They had only the things around them with which to construct the building.

So they used the oldest of the Nissan huts for the shell of the chapel.

They got together the left over rubble and plasterboard from their work on the barriers, and out of that they made the floor and the altar.

Discarded corned beef tins were turned into candlesticks and the engine of an old armoured vehicle became the font.

And their own skills and builders and decorators and painters enabled something beautiful to rise out of the wreckage of their own war torn lives.

They took the trappings of war and out of them constructed a symbol of peace.

They took that which had held them captive and turned it into a hope of freedom.

They took hold of the ugliness of spare parts and made an expression of beauty.

As we remember those who gave their lives in war, and think back upon this armistice day commemoration – we can do at least two things.

We indeed call to mind the sacrifice of many who gave their lives that we might have the chance of lasting peace – we reflect upon the stories of suffering and heroism of one hundred years ago.

The world was a very different place then and yet we know that we can feel gripped by the same fear as they shared.

So I think we are also called to repent at the way warring continues.

In the continual and relentless upsurge in world wide conflict now.

In the bitter words and angry threats so readily exchanged between nations.

And of the warring in our own lives where acrimony still holds sway.

And can we do what those Italian prisoners did – can we use the trappings of war to make peace.

Swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Not to distance ourselves from conflicts but to go to the heart of them where faith tells us – a spark and a light might turn the tables upon evil.

To pray for those who seek for this very thing in the battlefields of today.

To bring perspective to the loud claims of divide or unite. Join up or sever. For somewhere in those choices we find the repeated theme of today’s disturbances.

And to practice them in our own lives – however small or token such gestures might appear.

For then we do not just remember those who are called to mind today – we honour their lives by moving forward to peace.

For there was another prisoner – long ago – who was marched off to a distant hill.

A prisoner who contained in his very heart the entire content of God’s love for the world.

And he exposed that love for all to see – in the cruellest death imaginable.

A death which seemed like the end – but was actually the beginning.

And from that black Good Friday – Jesus Christ and his followers have been trappings of war and trying to make peace out of them.

With the cross as the unlikeliest of emblems.

Taking all that was hatred and making out of it – love.

Taking all that felt like captivity and making freedom of it.

It is when we turn to Christ – that we see that the theme of this sermon is not wishful thinking but has at its root – a living template.

One of the prisoners on that Scottish Island was a dedicated artist. His name was Domenico Chiochetti.

The war came to an end – but the chapel was not quite finished and he and others voluntarily remained captive until the job was done.

So that today the frescoes and the stained glass. The painting and the brass make of this chapel a significant landmark of hope.

And in 1960 the surviving prisoners and those who had held them captive returned to Lamb Holm to praise God together.

Making peace out of the trappings of war. I don’t know how it is that you might do that from where you sit – but pray to find ways.

I see the Christmas tree is already up in the Belfry Shopping Centre. How much earlier does it all have to get…I mean 11 November!

And yet – I think of the tree upon which Jesus died – all bare and hopeless – and this tree so early for Christmas and yet sparkling with the hope of something a lot of people cannot quite put their fingers on.

A symbol of peace to the backdrop of war.

Your life and mine somehow reflecting the same hope in these coming days.