Holy Communion 14th November 2021
On Remembrance Sunday
Sometimes a decision taken for practical reasons has consequences which are unanticipated. We associate the Act of Remembrance with the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and many of us will have kept silence at that time on Thursday. I did so on a residential with some clergy from this diocese, with the Bishop of London present with us on Zoom. Our observances change, and we use the materials to hand.
The use of such technology is not the practical decision I was thinking of, however. The Act of Remembrance with silence started in November 1920, and remained fixed on November 11, whatever day of the week it was. After the Second World War it was recognised that people at work, particularly veterans of the recent conflict, might not be able to take part, and that November 11 was also particularly associated with the Great War. It was decided to create a Remembrance Sunday on the second Sunday in November, to enable as many people as possible to take part. It being a Sunday, it was gathered into and framed by ceremonies in churches as well as civic memorials such as the Cenotaph. So now, seven decades later, our remembering the dead and our reflecting on war and country are placed in a religious, indeed Christian, framework, whatever the faith commitment of many of the participants might be.
Remembrance like this began in the face of the death of hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of the flower of their generation, female and male. Death was universal and all encompassing. Now that war has become the preserve of specialists the death of servicemen and women is more of an aberration, and it is the individual who is to the fore. Remembering the recent casualties of war in Afghanistan and Iraq means large communities focussed on one life, not many. That’s reflected in popular culture too: the recent film called 1917, directed by Hampstead’s Sam Mendes, shone a clear light on the individual, as it followed, in real time, a mission undertaken by two soldiers to warn of an ambush where whole battalions would have been in danger.
In a conflagration where thousands could die in a minute, the film honoured the individual life given for the many, just as research and story telling here has brought depth and context and new honour and understanding to the impersonal names on our war memorial. Remembrance Sunday is a literal reminder that war, however it changes its mechanisms and tools, continues as a constant part of geopolitics, with armed forces in a state of readiness to be deployed where the sate may decide. Here we are reminded that death is universal and individual. It was brought home for me as a child of peace when I realised that my contemporaries at university might well have been sent to the Falklands, when in my late twenties I conducted the funeral of a soldier killed in Belfast, and when it was given to me to choose the liturgical texts for a service of prayer as we went to war in Iraq in 2003.
Remembering is not nostalgia, or a documentary, or an academic reappraisal of battles and conflicts. Remembering puts us into the framework, and acknowledges that the actions of people before us, some of whom gave their lives, have their consequences and reverberations today. Remembering causes us to consider how such devastations came to be, and in recognising selflessness and service, asks how there can be better ways to do these things, whether ancient lusts for land and power and money and prestige are worth the wastelands ancient and modern war can create. Remembering, in recognising the offering of life by the individual, asks the world how we may live, sacrificially and generously, for he good of all, not just our ‘side’.
After all, what has been happening in Glasgow over the past two weeks, except a divided world recognising a common threat? How might we recognise the weakness of the poor and humble, and in serving them, find our own rescue and hope? How can we, rather than destroying the weak by serving ourselves, enable the needy to be raised and secured? Not all death in war is as ‘glorious’ as King George V wanted the nation to say in 1919. But the giving of life for others that there may be justice, righteousness and peace rather than oppression is honourable, and worthy of remembrance.
These themes take their place in our Christian frame. This Eucharist proclaims that one died for all, so all have died. And as Jesus was raised from death, so God’s victory over death is offered for all. That puts our living and our dying into a framework which can contain even the mass destruction and needless violence of which humanity is more than capable. There will be a new heaven and earth, where there will be no more tears, no more death. We remember. We pray. We hope. We live anew. Amen.Print This Page