It’s that month again.
We celebrated the saints in glory last week-end, and spent some time in candle-lit quiet treasuring the memories of our own dead as we commended them to God in our two All Souls commemorations.
We’ve enjoyed or endured the whizzes and bangs that seem to be extending way beyond Bonfire Night itself and now here we are on Remembrance Sunday, a day set apart for a particular kind of remembering as we look back with gratitude at all those who have fought and died in the service of others…those who are now just names on memorials around the country and those who are part of our own lives, the story of our own families…
Growing up in the 1960s, the 2nd world war seemed very close.
My home-town of Hastings still had some derelict sites where bombs had been dropped…
Both my parents had been part of the conflict, my father in the Royal Navy and my mother as a WRN. Though I was not to discover it until after his death, Daddy had been awarded a DSC for his leadership in an operation in Burma. You might have thought that this would make Remembrance Sunday important in his personal calendar but his attitude was always
“The reason that we fought, that my friends and comrades died, was so that your generation should not need to remember…Not like this, anyway…”
I think he always worried that amid the solemnities of marching bands and the profound silence that covered the land at eleven o’clock, we might fall prey to what Wilfrid Owen famously described as “the old lie, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”…It is sweet and proper to die for your country.
I adored my father, and it is only rarely that I disagree with him, even now, three decades after his death…but I think perhaps this time he was wrong.
As the saying goes
“History repeats itself. Has to. Nobody listens”
but the purpose of today is, surely, above all that we should be enabled to break out of that cycle of history…that we should learn to reap the full benefit of the sacrifices of the past…
We are, each one of us, an extraordinary bundle of the sum of our memories. Some of those will be treasured, some things we would much prefer to forget…but together they make us, both as individuals and as nations, into what we are…
Of course our rememberings will never be entirely positive
The heroism of war is balanced by the needless deaths through incompetence or political idiocy
The peace that was won has been tarnished with complacency.
Small wonder, then, that we hide from the powerful words of the prophet Amos
“I hate, I despise your festivals – even when they feature poppies lovingly dropped from the heights of the Albert Hall
I take no delight in your solemn assemblies, even when accompanied by marching band and uniformed groups…
LET JUSTICE ROLL DOWN LIKE WATERS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE AN EVER ROLLING STREAM”
Justice and righteousness
The trouble is that those aren’t always the equivalent of peace and goodwill. Rather they are troublesome entities, that disrupt our negotiated peace settlements based on enlightened self interest – and so we devise barrages and dams, to ensure that these powerful forces can be controlled, contained…
Really they are best left in the Old Testament, where they can't cause too much harm to anyone...not allowed to run free, upsetting the order of society. They are great in abstract, but none too welcome in their reality.
But on this Remembrance Sunday as on every other Sunday of the year we gather for another kind of re-membering…we come together as the broken body of Christ, complete with all our failures and regrets…We come as that broken body to the Sacrament which brings us healing
Remembering is the process of “Bringing the past into the present”… Back in the spring when my family packed up in preparation for our move to these parishes, there was a lot of re-membering like that…we discovered forgotten photographs and random objects that reminded us of old friends, trinkets that brought the memories flooding back. The time lost in between past and present disappeared and the memory was a real live moment again full of smells and sounds...Bringing the past into the present, indeed.
And that is what happens for us, week after week as we come to the Sacrament with all the wounds of our present reality.
The sights and sounds, the tastes and feelings bridge the gap for us between the upper room and our church 2000 years later and we find ourselves at table with our Lord.
But this Remembering is rather different.
This Remembering has as its one end our redemption and the peace of the world
It has nothing to do with soft focussed nostalgia, or bitter sweet national pride and everything to do with that relentless tide of justice and righteousness which transforms the world beyond our wildest imaginings
That transformation may ultimately involve letting the past go, taking our memories, hurts and regrets to the altar and finally leaving them there, having first thanked God for all He has taught us through them.
We can, though, rejoice that with Him nothing is ever wasted, no life lost or tears shed in vain, and holding on to that certainty we can then step forth, with him, into the Resurrection, where all that is admirable, all that is loved and cherished will be made new in Him.
So in closing, let me share with you a Remembrance tide creed, written by Alan Boesek for the World Council of Churches…
It is not true that this world and its people are doomed to die
and be lost -
THIS is true - for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last
word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.
THIS is true – Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall flourish out of the earth, and righteousness look down from heaven.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted as prophets of the church before we can do
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see
visions and your old men shall dream dreams.
It is not true that our dreams of liberation for humankind, of justice, of human dignity, and off peace are not meant for this earth and for this history -
THIS is true - the hour comes and it is now, that the true
worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.....
We have a choice - so let us, as the prophets so often counselled us, choose life.
Justice like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen