This morning I joined a class of Primary School children on a wild, wet and windy walk to the War Memorial in Broxbourne to mark Armistice Day. Poppies were worn, Laurence Binyon’s ‘For The Fallen’ was read, followed by a prayer and two minutes silence before our damp and thoughtful chain returned.
Remembering has always been central to God’s People. The fear is that without continually bring God’s deeds to mind, we will forget his centrality in our lives and wander after other gods (be that idols, pop-idols or the shrine of Tesco’s!) Throughout the Bible we are told of monuments erected, festivals celebrated and rituals inaugurated to help us remember what God had done for us and amongst us. From the setting up of stones to remember crossing the Red Sea, to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the drama of our story has been re-enacted through the generations, kept alive by a continual re-telling and re-telling.
There is always the danger with remembering that overtime the story changes; remembering becomes reminiscing or nostalgia. Heroes get larger than life, antics become funnier than they were and failings are forgotten. At the risk of being misunderstood or seen as unpatriotic, I sometimes worry about the emphasis placed on Remembrance Day. Over the last few years it seems to have become more and more important. I have no problem with people being encouraged to remember, my problem is more with what we are called to remember, how we do it and the language we use. Our memorials tell of ‘our glorious dead’, we talk of support for our ‘heroes’ and Remembrance Day is ‘celebrated’. The thing is it is not a glorious thing to die in war. War is a brutal affair that has no regard for courage or standing when picking its victims. Every death in war is an unnecessary death. It is certainly nothing to be celebrated, as pointed out by a group of veterans who fought in Northern Ireland and the Falklands in the Guardian recently. And this is why I think it was important to remember how it really was and sadly still is. In honest remembering we express our sorrow at the loss of so many in such appalling circumstances, in honest remembering we moved to support the victims of war past and present, and in honest remembering we are also moved to celebrate and work for peace.
There is another danger for us as we remember in church today. It is too easy for us to use the same language to describe the loss of life in war as we do of Christ. Talk of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘greater love has no man but to lay down their life for their friends…’ runs the risk of equating the death of our men in war (why don’t we remember those on the other side?) with the Cross, but there is no comparison.
Possibly the definitive act of remembering for us is the Bible, a remembrance of generation after generation and their experiences of God. Here there is no exaggeration of the greatness of its characters, nor hiding of their faults. It is brutally honest in its account, but in this act of remembrance, there is a glorious truth. Despite all the suffering and violence we have inflicted upon the world we have been given, God still reaches out to us with compassion and healing and hope.
Church Newsletter article for Sunday 14th November 2010