St Catherines Burbage & St Peters Aston Flamville VE Day Service
Address 8th May 2020
At a cabinet meeting on 9 April, Churchill decided that there could be a day of celebrations to mark the end of the war in Europe, and hoped that it would be known as VE (Victory in Europe) Day. Shortly thereafter, the public, commercial, and religious institutions began to prepare for, and the press (including the Christian press) to report in expectation of, this long-awaited day. It eventually proved to be Tuesday 8 May 1945, midway between Rogation Sunday and Ascension Day.
Besides celebrations in Europe, there was also a powerful sense of what peace might mean after nearly six years of war, and what opportunities and challenges it would present.
By the middle of April, the Church of England had decided that there should be a dedicated day to mark deliverance and give thanks to God for victory. All church collections that day would be for Christian work in liberated Europe. Gifts received could be earmarked for a specific country or continental denomination, or else allocated by the reconstruction committee of the World Council of Churches, pending Treasury approval for sterling to leave the UK.
Germany had already requested one million Bibles, and English, Swiss, and American theological books, because the Nazis had denied the occupied countries access to the latest scholarship.
The Roman Catholic periodical The Tablet announced on 5 May that whenever VE Day occurred there would be Benediction with a Te Deum in all churches and chapels. A votive mass of the Most Blessed Trinity was likely to be held the following Sunday, and a special collection taken for the Catholic European Restoration Fund.
On May 7th, General Jodl signed the instrument of surrender at General Eisenhower’s headquarters. All fighting was to cease by midnight on 8 May. Only a matter of hours before this, at 7.40 p.m., the BBC interrupted a piano recital to announce that the next day would be VE Day and a holiday.
The ships in harbour ushered in the day with three short blasts and one long one — the Morse code for the V-sign. Searchlights did the same across the sky. Among the first signs that peace was returning was the first weather forecast to appear in the press and on the BBC. It promised “bright intervals”, but warned of a large depression approaching.
The opening moments of that morning was fresh, followed by a sunny afternoon, when temperatures rose into the 70s.
The ringing of church bells, an ancient symbol of community spirit and celebration, had mostly been banned throughout the conflict. Now the bells were heard throughout the land, drawing in worshippers in abundance.
From our Old Testament reading, the Israelites in Zechariah’s time were subjects of the Persian empire, post-exilic Israel lacked national autonomy. They lacked a Davidic king ruling from the throne in Jerusalem. Though the temple was eventually rebuilt, this second temple lacked its former glory so that those who had seen Solomon’s temple wept at the sight of it (Ezra 3:12; Hag 2:3). Understandably, the post-exilic community struggled with discouragement, doubt, and despair as they wondered if God’s promises of future glory would ever become a reality. Into this situation God sent the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi to speak powerful words of challenge and comfort to his world-weary people, words which are just as relevant and powerful for Christians today.
In our Old testament reading the prophet Zechariah hears God say words that were both refreshing and hope filled, the old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem and the streets shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
The Apostle Paul says equally encouraging words in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians that it is through Christ we are reconciled with God. The old ways are gone and everything has been made new. I love the plain speaking of this passage taken from The Message:
“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”
So how wonderful and amazing it must have been to finally hear that war is over, that young and old can go into the streets and celebrate this new world. The world that we are now living in 75 years later. We owe the greatest debt of thanks remembering the lives lost, lives lived in fear, to the brave, the selfless deeds, the men and women who defended our liberty.
Out of VE Day came an extraordinary new world. This post-war age is not perfect as the discrimination of certain groups still occur, but it is thankfully not tolerated by the masses. Personal autonomy, political freedom and just basic human rights are now afforded to the vast majority of people.
We are living in extraordinary times and extraordinary events create extraordinary people. Let us be Gods people today.