The above is the remark attributed to the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Gray on 3rd August 1914, one which he apparently did not recall saying at all. I think the remark has survived, and been revived for the centenary commemorations due to its wonderful poetic cadences, its sense of ritual and the way it operates as a metaphor for despair and hope, good and evil.
I have been moved by the centenary commemorations, the facts, statistics and stories, some well known and others less so that I have heard over the last few days. Yet, at the same time, it seems to me that the First World War, which in some ways stands out as the first major conflict which was to involve more nations than any other war in human history up to that time and haunt us with the loss of a generation of young men, is also just a part of the sad continuum of human violence and bloodshed. The Great War only became the First World war when World War Two started, surpassing the Great War in the scale of devastation.
And today, that continuum of hatred and violence continues, perhaps on a smaller scale but still with harrowing consequences in conflicts around the world, the places which have been in the news- Gaza, Syria, Ukraine, with effects that are equally devastating for the individuals involved. A capacity for hatred, brutality, atrocity, indifference to the plight of others, seems to be a hallmark of human existence. Perhaps from a Christian point of view we might reflect not just on the lights going out across Europe but on the vast abyss of darkness that is human sin and hatred, a darkness that afflicts all humans in all times and places and which cannot be subdued by winning wars but only by the much harder business of winning hearts and souls.
|I am the Light of the World, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness|
but will have the light of life.