A moving sermon to those members of the OHRFC who fell in the Great War
I do not call you servants but friends. A moving tribute to the 50 members of the OHRFC who fell in the Great War paid by the Venerable Luke Miller at an event in their honour at the OHRFC in Ewell.
I do not call you servants but friends
At the beginning of the Great War, the OHRFC took the decision to cancel all its fixtures and eighty-five playing members immediately joined up. It took a heavy toll of its members as they answered the call to serve, with fifty of them making the ultimate sacrifice; these are commemorated in the Roll of Honour, which hangs in the Clubhouse.
At a moving service at the OHRFC Rugby Club at Ewell, conducted by the Venerable Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London (Hailey79.3) on Saturday 24th November, members were reminded of this great loss. We are pleased to publish the sermon delivered in their honour:
John 15:15 I do not call you servants, but friends
I don’t know what it was like in your houses, but around the walls of the DC in Hailey in the 1980s there were team photos. House cricket and rugby sides. Mainly they were from the turn-of-the-century. Which of course meant that many of the names were repeated twice, for all too many of those in the photographs were commemorated at the end of the room on the House war memorial. We knew ourselves to be part of a community which had sent its members to war.
Organised sport is so much part of school life that we forget that it was a radical innovation brought in as part of the great educational reforms of the mid 19th century inspired by Thomas Arnold which led to the modern public school. Not just physical exercise as a support to intellectual endeavour, but organised games. The development of rugby, not least as a result of the work people like the founder of the Old Haileyburian Society, Edward Temple Gurdon, who was twice President of the RFU, led to a code of laws, rules of the game. This was the radical bit: teaching children how to live under rule and order which paradoxically enables freedom and expression; and giving the profound experience of working together in a team which paradoxically depends on the unique gifts and skills of the individual. This is forging community, and we all know the community and the friendship that grows around the shared experience of team sport. Jesus called on His disciples to love one another. Love is a more profound forging of community than team sport is, but it is built on the same foundations. For me to give myself away to another in love paradoxically means that my own character grows and deepens. We all know that children who are not taken out to play with other children to forge friendships do not develop social skills and their own characters are inhibited in their growth.
This is the result and the reason of the call to love. It is not simply an invitation nor a recommendation, but a commandment of the Lord: love one another as I have loved you.
It is often said that the Great War was a scalding waste of life fought as the result of foolish dynastic politics. In fact, at the time, it was not seen in that way at all. It was understood as a life and death struggle against a philosophy of life which rejected the whole idea of love. Militarism reduced the individual and exalted the group. There were some very nasty strains of thought in the Kaiser’s Germany. Social Darwinism which suggested that the survival of the fittest required the elimination of the weak; the philosophy of Nietzsche with its ideals of the triumph of the will of the Superman and the elimination of pity. Translated into a political programme, while militarism was capable of inspiring sacrifice, it was the antithesis of the love of neighbour which Christ taught.
Jesus said, “I do not call you servants, but friends.” One cannot imagine such words falling from the lips of a leader such as the Kaiser; he sought not friendship but service. The preparation that those young men in the photographs, were making on the Twenty Acre was that they should be forged into a community of friends following the commandment of love, not that they should be drilled to become servants of a strong leader.
But Jesus is nothing if not a strong leader. His commandment was that we should love one another as he has loved us. And he loved us so much that he died for us. He entered entirely into our human existence, from conception in his mother’s womb through birth and growth into youth, maturing in stature before God and man until he entered his adult hood and so emptied himself of his divinity that he embraced every aspect of our humanity up to and including death such that in every aspect of what we are from birth through youth maturity and our own decrepitude and death he is with us. And this means that we can be with him in his resurrection and share with him in eternal life. So those who were formed to play by the rules and to make their own unique offering which simultaneously builds up the team and enables the individual to flourish are called to imitate one whom they followed in laying down their lives in sacrifice for their friends. For no man has greater love than this that he lays down his life for his friends.
Around the apse of the chapel at school are set the words in Latin from our first reading Esto fidelis usque ad mortem; et dab tibi coronam vitae: to him who is faithful unto death I will give a crown of life. Those words were put there is a memorial to the fallen the 50 whom we commemorate today and to the 10 times that number of their brothers who also fell in that Great War. But the inscription was put there for the living to read.
We have learned to play; and whether we are now fit only to be a prop at the bar or whether are still fit to stand in the front row we are all of us called to be faithful in these days that we have before we too come to die. Perhaps not all share the living faith in Jesus Christ and in his call to sacrificial friendship which those of us who seek to follow Him with our lives have as the guiding principle of our actions. But whether we believe in him or not, we are called to be faithful to the principle that playing by the rules allows us to flower in the paradox that true freedom and personal expression comes only within the framework of disciplined life; and we are all called to live by the truth that personal growth and true development of character comes only when selflessly one turns away from oneself and seeks to serve others. It is the hope of Christians that those whom we commemorate are not dead but living, and that we who live may look forward in hope to share with them in a crown which is to come; but with those who do not believe in the resurrection we share the duty to respond to the sacrifice of those members of our community whom without us ever knowing them were our friends, by living under the discipline of love.
Then vivat, vivat round the board, Vivat Haileyburia! And yet once more with louder chord Vivat Haileyburia! For we've been boys and men together, Have weilded bat and hunted leather, In summer and in winter weather. Vivat Haileyburia!
And sweet was then the victor's crown, Vivat Haileyburia! But friendship's joy struck deeper down, Vivat Haileyburia! And though our distant feet may roam Our hearts will ne'er forget the home The dear old school beneath the dome Vivat Haileyburia!
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