Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine... these get the headlines, but don’t forget about North Korea, Syria, Iran, India and Pakistan, the DRC. The point is, there is no shortage of conflict and war in the world today. Do such things make Jesus’ words sound impossible? How can it possibly be true that the meek, the merciful and the mourning be blessed?

Jesus is not describing some distant dreamland where everything will be perfect. Future tense. He is describing the present tense about what God’s kingdom is like right here, right now, right under our noses.

When we see someone who is poor in spirit... there is the kingdom of God.

When we see someone is hungry for justice... there is the kingdom of God.

When we see someone who doesn’t just avoid fights but creates peace... there is the kingdom of God, right in front of our face.

Now, 2023 is not the first time in human history that it seemed that the entire world was at war. Which is why, we need to remember – an appropriate word for today - we need to remember that through wars and plagues, famines and disasters, from the rise of one imperial superpower, to the fall of another, through it all God continues to bless the poor in spirit, God continues to comfort those who mourn, God continues to shelter the meek and to rejoice with the persecuted.

But again, how is that possible?

Through a bit of dumb luck and God’s grace, I attended Colonel John McRae Public School in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, never expecting to one day be a priest in those “Flanders Fields” he wrote about in his famous poem. In fact, the school was right next to the house where he had been born. Each year, every student would stand at attention, in rows and columns, and recite every word and piece of punctuation in perfect unison:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row, that mark our place and in the sky the lark still bravely singing flies, scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved and were loved. Now we lie in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe, to you from failing hands we throw the Torch, be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”

It is well known that Colonel McRae wrote that poem for the funeral of a friend who was killed in battle less than 10 minutes from Ieper. But remember, when he wrote it, people didn’t wear poppies yet. He was simply writing about what he saw: poppies - everywhere.

Poppies that grew wild among the crosses, which for us in this church, are a symbol of faith and hope. He also writes about the singing lark, which is a symbol of Resurrection and Eternal life. He writes about dawn, and love, and a torch – all of these are symbols of faith. So, this is not actually a poem about war and death. It is a poem about faith and friendship and the Victory of Love. In other words, this poem reveals the same truth that Jesus was describing – that God’s kingdom grows like a weed between, and around, and all over, the pain and suffering of this world - like poppies - blowing in the wind.

But let’s be honest. This goes against our expectations. Normally, we assume that peace and calm are signs of God’s blessing. But it doesn’t take a lot of faith to see God’s presence when things are good. Anyone can do that. Instead, Jesus’ words challenge us to see God’s blessing in the midst of suffering, to pay attention to the poppies blowing between the crosses, to say, ‘This is not a place of death – because we see signs of New Life.’

So, today, as we wear our poppies, let us truly remember... not only those who have died in wars past and present, but let us also remember where God’s kingdom can be found today: in the meek, in the mournful, in the persecuted, and – in between the crosses. It can be found in all those conflicts we are sadly witnessing at the moment.

Let us remember, that every place we can see poppies is also a place where we can see God’s kingdom growing - everywhere. Which is why we can still say, “Thanks be to God.”

The Revd Canon Stephen Murray