Today is VE day and it is 75 years since the fighting in Europe came to an end.
As a child I was brought up on tales of what my parents and grandparents did in the war. Both of my grandparents were in reserved so most of the stories were of the home front. There was one exception – my uncle Bill who was in the RAF and killed just a few short months before the end of the war.
My family lived through the Blitz, they told the stories. This year more people have died in London of Corona Virus than in the Blitz. That is really scary. Today’s casualties are often hidden. People are dying in hospitals and care homes. In the past the pictures were far more dramatic – bombed out streets, fire storms and fire wardens.
Today the population is sheltering in their homes with Netflix rather than in the bomb shelters on Clapham Common as my family were seven decades ago, but death is death and there is still fear and threat and there was and will be trauma.
We must and do celebrate the heroism of those who fought in the world war 2 and those who are working on the front line today, but we ignore trauma at our peril.
When my uncle Bill’s small box of possessions were returned to the family in 1945 they were locked away in a cupboard and not spoken of. The desire to forget what hurts is powerful. But it doesn’t go away. It festers in the dark.
If we look back in our Bibles we see that the people of Israel faced grief and loss and trauma. They were defeated in war and carried off to Babylon and Assyria as slaves. Their place of worship was not just shut; it was destroyed; raised to the ground. We hear their lament thousands of years later in Psalm 137
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
There is real pain in this psalm
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
How can we make sense of this crisis? How can we sing the Lord’s song in this foreign land of social distancing and closed churches? It is such a challenge and the temptation can be to lie down and weep. To pretend it isn’t happening. To just put life on hold until normal comes back. Yet if you do feel like weeping the psalms are a good place to go. There is lament and pain and reality there. Forget the stiff upper lip of Sunday afternoon war films – here is the reality of loss and it has to be gone through and not around.
Many of us are mourning the loss of the familiar; we are still in the middle of the story and we don’t know how it ends but we can learn from the experience of the second world war and the temptation to put it all behind us and carry on as we were. Like my family locking away that box of possessions trying to ignore the grief.
The people of Israel didn’t have it easy in their exile in Babylon but in their distress and in the way that they were forced out of what was normal, there was a huge creative flourishing. They looked back on their old stories of the flood and the creation and memories of man called Joseph who led them into Egypt and a man called Moses who led them out and they wondered where God was in all of this. In that huge dislocation as they wondered how to sing the Lord’s Song in a new land they re-found a God who cared for them and who was loving kindness and justice and mercy. They reframed their story as one of hope and rediscovered the God who had cared for them through the generations and they find that hope in captivity. What we might now call post traumatic growth. Not denial but a new start.
It is not an easy journey. It requires courage and imagination and a willingness to ask questions and not always like the answers. It calls us to change. To listen for where God is already working and in humility to join in.
On this VE day we remember those who died in the war. We remember those today on the front line today. We give thanks for peace. We pray for a vaccine. We ask for the courage to face our fears, to ask the question where is God in this, how do we sing the Lords song in a strange land and to listen to the reply. It may come from the most unexpected places.
Happy VE Day.
Rest in Peace Bill.
Photo of the memorial in Bushy Park remembering the part it played in the second world war. Image by Ian Anderson