For Remembrance, be it Remembrance Day or Remembrance Sunday, there is one recognised and established symbol that speaks volumes. It is of course the symbol of the poppy. During WW1, much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. The countryside was devastated, repeatedly bombed and endlessly fought over. Previously beautiful landscapes were turned into mud-baths, and they became bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing grew. There was a notable and striking exception to this dominant and depressing bleakness, the bright red Flanders poppies. These fragile but resilient flowers grew in the middle of so much chaos and devastation, often colouring an area in great numbers.

Shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was moved and inspired by the sight of these poppies, and he felt led to write his now famous poem “In Flanders fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The simple poppy helps us to remember so that we do not “break faith” with those who suffered and those who perished, but we keep their memory alive, and we remember and recognise the great value of service and sacrifice.

So, what does remembrance mean to you? As we watched that short video at the beginning of our service, lots of words and ideas were shared by a whole variety of people – words like respect, bravery, loyalty, friendship, selflessness, and honour. From a Christian/biblical perspective two words particularly stand out for me. They are the words service and sacrifice.

Recently as we have delved into the gospel of Mark these two ideas keep re-emerging as Mark reiterates what following Jesus Christ means. Faithfully following Jesus, who is the Servant King, means learning to humbly serve others, and being prepared to sacrifice all for Christ. The disciples who responded to the call of Jesus to follow him had to understand and practice servanthood. In what is seen as the most significant verse in Mark as far as our understanding of Jesus is concerned, we read these words;

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

 This was Jesus’s mission and ministry in a nutshell. He took the role of a servant and was willing to give up his life for others. (Philippians 2:6-8)

In the same context we have this challenge to his followers;

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  (Mark 10:43-44)

 This was something Jesus taught repeatedly. Earlier he had said the following to them when they had been having an argument about who was the greatest;

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35)

 On the night he was betrayed, a short time before he was arrested, Jesus showed his disciples servanthood in symbolic form. The symbols were a bowl of water and a towel. He served them as he washed and dried their feet. This is our God – the Servant King – He calls us now to follow him. He is our Teacher and our Master, and Christians are called to follow his clear example of humble service. (John 13: 13-16) Without humble service, our claims to be true followers of Jesus are groundless and hollow.

There were even bigger symbols than bowl and towel introduced that same evening – because bread and wine came into focus after foot washing had finished. These were symbols of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. The bread which he broke and shared symbolised his body which would be broken. The outpoured wine which all the disciples drank that night symbolised the blood that he would pour out from the cross for the sins of “the many”.

Remembering important things is often helped through relevant symbols and signs. Christians must remember, according to Jesus, his atoning death for the forgiveness of sins. His cross must be central in their thinking. The cross is actually the pre-eminent Christian symbol. His death must be remembered and considered regularly using the symbols of broken bread and poured out wine. His sacrificial death is what matters above all things because it’s fruits include, precious forgiveness, full reconciliation to God, and eternal hope and resurrection life. By sharing bread and wine, Christians remember the death of their Lord “until he comes again”. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

The poppy is important to all who wish to remember those who served and sacrificed for their country in WW1 and WW2 and in other conflicts that have taken place since then. Service and sacrifices are remembered with deep respect and humble gratitude.

For the Christian, Christ’s example of service and sacrifice is brought to mind and embraced in the heart as they regularly partake in Holy Communion. Christians though, are called not just to remember, but to follow Christ wholeheartedly. We are called to serve as Christ did. We are called to sacrifice as he did, for after speaking about his own sacrificial death – he urged all who would follow him – to “take up their own cross and follow him” – whatever the personal cost. (Mark 8:34) Christians may even have to lay down their lives in the service of their Lord just as people have laid down their lives in the service of their countries. Those first readers who Mark wrote to with his gospel may have had to do that as they faced cruel persecution in Rome, and Christians today in different parts of the world continue to discover that real discipleship can be very costly and can lead to suffering, sacrifice and even death.

As we remember today the service and sacrifice of others in the past, and as we recall the service and sacrifice of Christ, and the symbols of bread wine and bowl and towel, let us reflect upon the way we follow Christ today. Ponder upon these questions:

In what ways do I actually serve others for the sake and with the love of Jesus Christ?

In what ways do I make significant sacrifices for the cause of Christ’s Kingdom?

Do I die to “self” each day and willingly take up my cross to follow Jesus?

We are enormously grateful to all who have served Christchurch sacrificially in the past. No local Church can survive or thrive on “thin air” commitment. There have been numerous wonderful examples of service and sacrifice here in the past. The need for future service and sacrifice is real and facing us right now; others will need to step forward and sacrifice if Christchurch is to have a strong future and if its contribution to God’s mission through God’s Spirit is to succeed. Humble service and serious sacrifices are always needed and necessary. Christ leads the way for his own people by his own example. But who else will take up a cross and follow him?

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:17)

Recently I bought a gift for myself. I don’t do that very often, but I was hurriedly visiting a craft centre in the Forest of Dean and I saw a stone carved Celtic Cross that could be placed in a garden. I liked it and I bought it. The Celtic Cross is recognised by the circle within it – a circle that stands for the whole world. The message is this – Christ died on a cross for the whole of humanity – in fact for the whole of creation. The world is saved through his sacrifice. Everything is reconciled to God through the willing and sacrificial death of his own Son. (Colossians 1: 19-20)

Today we remember those who served their country and sacrificed so much for their country, and for the freedom of their country. As we remember them with gratitude, wearing our poppies and holding our respectful silence, we also remember the One who came into this world to die for the whole of it – not just for one nation, but for every nation. God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son. (John 3:16). And in virtually every nation under sun, Christians gather, to break bread, and drink wine regularly, and to remember Christ’s saving sacrifice, and to rededicate their own lives to the God who came and died for them. It was Jesus who said these words to his disciples, words that are often quoted on Remembrance Day:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:12-13)

 And so, as the apostle Paul urges – we must, in view of God’s mercy shown through the death of his Son on the cross for us, offer our bodies (lay them down) as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, for this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12: 1f)

Let us learn how to serve and in our lives enthrone him. Let us be living sacrifices for Christ’s sake.



(Rev Peter J Clarkson 14.11.21)