13 November 2022
Reading: John 15: 9-17
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
When I was about 11, my parents took my sister and I to France for the first time. We drove to Alsace, stopping off at interesting places on the way. One of these left a lasting impression on me. My parents insisted on visiting one of the 1st World War cemeteries. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. There was no-one else around and I remember standing and seeing a sea of white crosses stretching out into the distance. To my child’s eyes it seemed to stretch into eternity. And the sense of immense loss, that each cross represented someone who didn’t make it home, someone for whom – in the words of Wilfrid Owen, “The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.” Each simple white cross is someone who was waited for, watched for, and remembered.
Remembrance. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we remember. We don’t have all the names, but we remember.
Those caught up in something bigger than themselves, but who responded. Across the years, from the two world wars to the Falklands war, which is remembered particularly this year, through to the conflicts today more names are added, more blinds drawn down at home.
Even today, names are being added across the world for those who give their todays so that we and others can have our tomorrows.
And this is what we remember: that there are people who are willing to risk everything, even life itself, to protect us from tyranny, oppression, fear, war. And this giving of self, the ultimate giving of the whole of oneself, is here at the heart of our faith: summed up in John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And not just for friends, for those they never knew. The sacrifice is for all who believe in freedom, in love, peace, serving and service. Who believe love is stronger than hate. For those who believe that there is something worth fighting for: something worth living, trying and even dying for. We can live free from oppression and fear because there were those who stood up, responded to the call and put themselves in the line of danger. The ones who believed in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s prayer: Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death , Victory is ours through him who loved us, who told us to love one another. And so at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember those who loved , and who laid down their lives for those they loved. We will remember them.
But why? Why the poppies; the Act of Remembrance. Why is it so important to remember? Because, in the words of an eminent theologian: “memories are what hold, value and discern the significance of what we recall.” In our act of Remembrance, it is not just a bringing to mind, it is re-connecting us, binding past, present and future together. We re-member, put together again what has been dis-membered through the evil of war. It re-members the world, re-minds us of what has happened, and why: for our tomorrows they gave their today. We remember because if we don’t that sacrifice means nothing. Their lives were given to re-make the world, to re-deem it from the threats that were posed by forces which wanted to destroy, to dis-member, all that we hold good and true. We remember in order to re-unite that which was dis-united through conflict, violence and division. The acts that separated us from each other, from God. Their lives were given to prove goodness is stronger than evil, life stronger than death, and love stronger than evil, and it is this belief that gives us the victory, in God. If we don’t re-member them, then through our forgetfulness the threat can return, and more will be called to sacrifice, to give their lives to protect freedom and hope. And all they gave will be reduced. It is a call not to forgive and forget, but to forgive and remember so that through remembering their sacrifice we can move forward with the hope they held to and can reconcile ourselves again to each other, and reunite ourselves with each other, and to and with God. To forget the past, to forget the conflicts and the many lives affected by them, destroys peace: we become complacent, and the same mistakes are made. As the theologian says: “Forgetfulness is the enemy of justice.” To honour all lives lost, all sacrifices made – civilian, military, even the animals who were used in war – we remember. And we give thanks to those whom we remember, who faced the “stuttering rifles rapid rattle”. Whose bodies will not be raised by the gentle rays of the sun.
Remembrance. Remembrance is at the centre of what we do, week after week: in the words heard during the eucharist: do this in remembrance of me. Just as each week we re-enact the last supper in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice made once for all upon the cross, we do this act of Remembrance today in remembrance of all who gave everything to protect our future. And we do it to protect that future, for us and for future generations, to re-mind ourselves, everyone, of what we have because of them, and of how fragile this is. How by forgetting, by losing our memory, the world can change and all that we have, all that was so dearly won, can be taken away. Through re-membering we honour all who worked against the power of evil and death, and we re-shape the world in hope, we re-fashion it into a place for all to share, and we re-make ourselves in the image of the loving, ever-giving God, whose own sacrifice is reflected, re-membered, in the sacrifices we remember today.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them, because for our tomorrow, they gave their today.
Revd Jackie Sellin, Assistant Chaplain
(Percy: Martyn (2013) 39 New Articles: Article 20: Remembrance, Canterbury Press)
(Wilfrid Owen: Anthem for Doomed Youth: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47393/anthem-for-doomed-youth )