‘The Church is full of them – unsung heroes who quietly and faithfully serve, year in, year out. They are rarely noticed and seldom celebrated, but the local church would collapse without them.’ November is a month for remembering both the known and the unknown heroes. The saints and heroes of our faith, known and unknown. The soldiers who went to fight for the freedom which we enjoy today.
In 1916, Reverend David Railton was serving as an army chaplain on the Western Front. He saw a grave marked with a rough cross, with the words ‘An Unknown British Soldier’ written on the cross in pencil. In 1920, Rev Railton wrote to the Dean of Westminster proposing that an unidentified British soldier from the battlefields in France be buried with an appropriate ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Here he would be ‘amongst the kings’ to represent the many hundreds of thousands of those British soldiers who had been killed and their remains never found or identified.
On the 11th November 1920 the Coffin of an unidentified British soldier was interred at Westminster Abbey during the Armistice Day service. Inscribed on the coffin are these words: ‘Beneath this stone rests the body of a British warrior unknown by name or rank brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day 11 Nov 1920, in the presence of his Majesty King George V, his ministers of state, the chief of his forces and a vast concourse of the nation. Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914-18 gave the most that man can give, life itself for God , for King, for Country, for loved ones home and empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world. They buried him among the Kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house.’
Since 1920, other countries have installed a national monument of a tomb of an unknown soldier. The remains of the soldier, known only to God, serve as a symbol for a country’s entire unknown dead wherever they fell in the war being remembered. The anonymity of the entombed soldier is the key symbolism of the monument; it could be the tomb of anyone who fell in service of the nation, and therefore serves as a monument symbolising all of the sacrifices.
Paul, the apostle, is well known to Christians. Titus, a key member of Paul’s team, who planted churches in Crete, isn’t so well known. Building a profile of Titus takes some detective work, piecing together various references. What emerges is a portrait of a wise and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Titus brokered peace in situations of conflict and nudged others towards greatness. There are many heroes of the faith, named and often not given a name in the Bible. Each one is known by God.
Each one of the 39 Chinese nationals, found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex is a life that was precious to God. Every child that simply ‘disappears’ somewhere in the world is never just another statistic in God’s eyes. As we take time to remember the known and unknown heroes this month, we hold on to the truth that each one of us is known and loved by God.
Your sister in Christ, Juliet