09 November 2014

A service of the word and hymns
to mark Remembrance Sunday

A wreath of poppies at the war memorial at the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

At the end of a busy working weekend, I am presiding at the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this morning [9 November 2014].

This is the Third Sunday before Advent and Remembrance Sunday.

For the Liturgy of the World, we are using ‘A Service of the Word for a commemoration of the First World War,’ prepared by the Liturgical Advisory Committee, and for which I wrote the introduction:

Remembering World War I:

The number of events to commemorate multiplies for the years 2014-2018. Understandably, much of the attention is going to focus on the centenary of the landings at Suvla Bay and the Gallipoli Campaign, between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, and on the Battle of the Somme, which was fought 1 July and 18 November 1916.

A conservative estimate says nearly 4,000 Irish troops died in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, but the figure is probably much higher.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 5,500 casualties of the 36th Ulster Division on 1 July were men drawn almost entirely from one community in Ulster. Nearly 2,000 soldiers from cities, towns, villages and townlands in Northern Ireland were killed in the first few hours of fighting.

In a continuation of the same battle, the 16th Irish Division had 4,330 casualties in September, of whom 1,200 were killed. These came mainly from the other three provinces.

In addition, many more Irish soldiers fought in other divisions of the regular army or in the newly-raised battalions. The total number of Irish casualties cannot be calculated with certainty but they affected every part of the island and continue to influence the evolution of Irish politics.

The Battle of the Somme is an important but often politicised commemoration in Northern Ireland, yet in both campaigns men from both parts of the island and from both traditions fought side-by-side suffered together, and sustained, encouraged and cared for each other.

Many of the stories from both campaigns remain untold. The majority of the Irish regiments, not all based on this island, have been disbanded, and the loss of continuity means the loss of story-telling. In addition, the changing political climate in Southern Ireland meant former soldiers and families felt they were forced into silence. Those who had gone out in bravery and thought they were returning home as heroes, now found their stories could not be told, and feared being marginalised as ‘traitors.’ Heroism and bravery were forgotten, and those who suffered, both former soldiers and their families, often suffered in silence.

In the new Irish Free State, even the promise of secure jobs for returning soldiers often disappeared.

In giving voice to the silenced generation, the Church must give voice to their suffering, their untold stories, their bravery and heroism. Perhaps they answered the call from Redmond to fight for the freedom of small nations; perhaps they hoped their decision would bring financial security and employment for their family and for future generations.

How we design and structure our commemorations can restore these hopes and give new hope for the security they sought for future generations.

Confession and thanksgiving, in the proper proportions and in creative tension and balance, can help achieve this.

Patrick Comerford

The service and additional full resources can be downloaded here.

‘Pax 1919’ ... the spires of Lichfield Cathedral seen from the gates of the Garden of Remembrance … how do we remember the war dead in our cathedrals and churches on Remembrance Sunday? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

This morning’s hymns:

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for this morning are: Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78: 1-7; I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; and Matthew 25: 1-13.

Our opening hymn this morning is ‘In Christ there is no east or west’ (Irish Church Hymnal, No 522). This hymn was first written by John Oxenham (William Arthur Dunkerley) for a mission conference in London in 1908, but he rewrote the hymn which appeared in different editions in 1913 and 1924 so that it now reflects the theme of Christian unity but also speaks out against the barriers and discriminations based on race, creed, class, culture, tradition and gender.

The tune ‘Clonmel’ is said to be an old Irish traditional melody, and in some parts of Ireland it is associated with the 1798 ballad ‘The Boys of Wexford,’ but has been arranged for this hymn by George Petrie, CV Stanford and Donald Davison.

After our act of commemoration and silence, we sing ‘O God, our help in ages past’ (Hymn 537), a hymn associated by many with Remembrance Day commemorations. It was written by Isaac Watts as paraphrase of Psalm 90: 1-6, and was later revised by John Wesley. The words of the hymn have become inseparable from the tune ‘St Anne.’ The words and the tune were first linked by William Henry Monk, the musical editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern, and the tune was later harmonised by Sir Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame and the son of an Irish-born bandmaster and music teacher.

Our Offertory Hymn, ‘Your kingdom come O God’ (No 509), is by Canon Lewis Hensley, and although written at a time of relative peace is prophetic when to comes to talking about war and tyranny.

Our final, Post-Communion Hymn is ‘Lord, for the years’ (No 81), written by Timothy Dudley-Smith for a service in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, marking the centenary of the Scripture Union, founded in 1867, and the tune was written by Michael Baughen, later Bishop of Chester. Later, it was used widely at services in 1995 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War I.

The pulpit in Saint Iberius’s Church, Wexford, serves as a World War I memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford,2014)


Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the king of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
Look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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