Easter message from Rev David Webster: Violence of war ‘is not God’s way’

Stranton Church
Stranton Church

THEOPHILUS is an unusual Christian name for a man these days.

It means “a lover of God” or “loved by God”.

It was the name of the first British soldier to be killed on British soil by enemy action for 100 years.

Theo Jones was a Hartlepool man, a private killed while serving in the Durham Light Infantry on coastal defence in Hartlepool exactly 100 years ago this year.

Hundreds of thousands of young men who volunteered to serve in the army in September of that year were killed in the next four years.

They made what we call the “supreme sacrifice”.

At Easter the Christian church celebrates the resurrection from the dead of Jesus after his “Supreme Sacrifice” upon the cross on Good Friday.

There are parallels in the deaths of Jesus and Theo. Jesus was about 33, Theo was 27.

Jesus was mourned by his mother Mary, Theo by his mother who lived in Ashgrove Avenue and who was again bereaved by the death of Theo’s brother later in the war.

Jesus was brought up in the Jewish faith, Theo in the Christian faith.

The Prayer Book in his breast pocket, a gift from the school he taught in and from the church in which he played the organ, was damaged by a piece of shrapnel from the shell that killed him.

There are also differences. Jesus was interred in haste in a borrowed tomb, outside the Jerusalem walls, by two men, Joseph and Nicodemus.

Theo’s funeral in St Aidan’s church was packed out and that in a week that had seen over a hundred funerals in the town, victims of the bombardment.

Athletic clubs and rugby clubs were officially represented, his body was buried in Hart Lane cemetery.

Yet the greatest possible difference between the death of Jesus and that of Theo and the millions like him was that their sacrifice was a human sacrifice but that of Jesus was a divine sacrifice.

Through Jesus God offered himself for the redeeming of all humanity.

Theo met his death by meeting violence with violence.

German armies had marched into neutral Belgium to bypass the French defences and threaten Paris.

German warships were to shell civilian towns.

My own father, also a Hartlepool DLI private like Theo since September, only a 19-year old, was manning the coastal defence trenches and observed the bombardment.

He survived only to be almost fatally injured near Ypres three years later.

His brother was killed four months before the Armistice ended the war.

Jesus met his death refusing to respond to the evil of violence with violence.

Those who arrested Jesus came “equipped with lanterns, torches and weapons”, Jesus told Peter “Sheathe your sword. This is the cup the Father has given me; shall I not drink it?”

Another account adds Jesus words, “All who take the sword die by the sword.”

As he was nailed to the cross Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

It is almost impossible for us not to react to violence with violence.

I myself served National Service in the RAF when the Korean War was being fought at the height of the Cold War.

But it is not God’s way. He, as Jesus shows us, accepts the pain and cost of violence with the only response that can succeed, that of love and forgiveness.

So Jesus died at men’s hands. The Father’s response was to raise Jesus to new life with himself on the first Easter morning.

To that we respond with “Alleluia”. A very happy Easter to all our readers.