Seventy five years ago Britain stood on the brink of invasion. Churchill declared, “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation”.
But could there be hope in the midst of uncertainty? Could there a glimmer of light in the midst of threatened darkness? Could there be victory against the might of an enemy within bombing range of our nation’s capital and beyond? Could there be salvation?
This turning point in our nation’s history is the story of victory and of salvation. It’s also the story of the Hurricane fighter plane, and the more famous Spitfire; the story of Air Chief Marshals Dowding and Park’s preparation and strategy; and the story of Churchill’s inspirational leadership. It’s the story of the thousands who plotted and planned; who engineered and served; who loved and lost; who fought and won. It’s the story of victory against all odds. It’s the story of the few and the debt we owe. Could they have dreamt that it would really become our finest hour? Could they have imagined that the work of their hands would become the salvation of our nation? Through their Bravery our Freedom was won.
For the young men of Fighter Command, it was bravery that drove them to climb into their aircraft for sortie after sortie, knowing what was waiting. It’s impossible to imagine what they felt, what they experienced. Some have written of the overwhelming sense of physical and emotional exhaustion during the battle – and yet they kept going.
In his memoir First Light, fighter pilot Geoffrey Wellum wrote that:
“In most lives, I suppose there comes a time when one has to make a supreme effort that calls for every morsel of more and more endeavour and more than not that effort has to be sustained. With me I am certain that my time came with my 3 years as an operational fighter pilot in our country’s finest hour. I grieve for my lost friends in the Squadron, I had reached the pinnacle of my life before the age of 22.”
They found an inner strength to do what needed to be done despite exhaustion, despite fear. It was an example that would soon be followed by Bomber Command, and has emulated by today’s RAF in countless operations.
Our Bible reading from the prophet Isaiah reminds us that even when we grow weary the Lord our God will not. It’s in God that is the birth of hope, in God the light against darkness: God is where strength is renewed, God gives the strength to soar on wings as eagles. This is the promise of God’s provision – available for all. When we feel we can take no more, give no more, when we are emotionally and physically drained, God provides for our wellbeing. This is where can we find strength for those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will run and not grow weary.
One thing we can clearly say about the men who flew in the Battle of Britain was that they were brave. They were the ones who knew for real what Isaiah was talking about.
Bravery often results in sacrifice. This is the cost of service. This is the example we have before us. The Few, they were known as. 544 members of Fighter Command, who made the ultimate sacrifice, and many others who suffered and continue to suffer physical, mental, and spiritual pain. This is the cost of freedom. The sacrifice we commemorate today is to be seen in the successors of the few, who still step forward to serve in the cause of freedom, who patrol and protect our skies, and operate in places of danger. Of course we can serve and make sacrifices without any reference to God, however again Isaiah challenges us
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
Here is a God who loves us so much that he became one of us, who put on the uniform of humanity, who lived and taught love and a set of values so radical that he was crucified, but conquered death and lives today. Here is sacrifice.
Through that sacrifice, came freedom. Seventy five years ago our Freedom was threatened. We may have sung ‘Britons never, never, will be slaves’ at last weekend’s Last night of the Proms, but only because the victory we remember today stopped that possibility in its tracks. Just as for the Christian, without Christmas there is no Easter, without the Battle of Britain, there is no D day; no VE; no VJ day.
The few were called upon to fight and resist an evil power, which sought to quench the very breath of freedom which enlivens us. The threat today may be different, but it is no less real. There is again the threat of darkness, there is again uncertainty in so many different ways. The response must be just as clear and decisive as it was then; the need to ‘stand your ground, stand firm – put on the armour of God.’
There was bravery, and sacrifice, to bring freedom. Today we celebrated another young life: baby Josh. In his baptism we see made real that God is love, that god is offering Josh his love without limit or condition. That bravery, that carrying on eagle’s wings, God is offering that to Josh. That sacrifice, when Jesus died on the cross he showed us God’s love, for Josh, for you, for me. All so that Josh, so that each one of us, can be free in God’s love.
Here in this house of God, this place of prayer, we remember that seventy five years ago, a generation of young men, supported by the many, took to the skies, and through their bravery and sacrifice won our freedom. We salute them, and give thanks to God for their bravery, freedom, and sacrifice. But, we recognise that the freedom their bravery and sacrifice was all about was our freedom as God’s beloved children. Today we celebrate especially as we see God’s love for Josh made real, symbolised by water, as an example of the love that God offers to all of us.
As we remember the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought in the Battle of Britain to bring freedom, as we remember that God’s love is our freedom today, what is that God asks to do in this time and in this place?