Remembrance Day – The Chaplain

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you’d planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Today if Remembrance Sunday when we remember all those who have died as a result of war. For some, it is still, as in Christina Rossetti’s poem, a tangible memory of the loss of a loved one or comrade. It is a time when grand parents and great grand parents recall stories of wartime, such as when Uncle Ned’s house at the end of the street got bombed out in the Blitz or the freedom of flying high above the clouds in a Spitfire on reconnaissance over Dubrovnik. I can still see Tony Pearce, with his medals clinking, dressing a young boy in his Ervine flying jacket, cap and goggles as he tells the school in assembly what it was like to fly a Spit. These people and all their memories of the good old days are dying out. We may still have written records and archive footage, but its not the same as talking to those who lived through it, who saw their comrades die around them, had husbands that never came home, its not the same as looking in their faces and hearing them remember. We may be losing those who remember the First and Second World Wars but wars have not ceased and there are may whose future plans will come to nothing as a result of their loved one having been killed in manoeuvres in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them this is a poignant time of remembering, it is a time to grieve.

But for us who were born so long after the events of the Second and First World Wars, who experience war only from the comfort of our armchairs, who have no tangible memories to recall, who have no loved one we know of to grieve. For us it is not so much a day of remembering or calling to mind a past experience or person but rather it is a day on which we are reminded. Reminded of the students who came up to this College never to complete their degrees, reminded of what a time of war can be like and how it affects every person in all aspects of their lives. As we see the veterans of more recent conflict and hear the widows and bereaved, we are reminded that we are still, this day in a state of war. That someone, somewhere is risking their lives to protect our ordinary way of life. We are reminded of a larger world from our everyday happenings, a world where conflict and violence are a daily occurrence, where genocide goes on unabated. Today we are reminded, in the grimmest terms of what we are capable of doing to one another as individuals, as communities and as nations, we are reminded lest we forget. For we do so easily forget. We don’t mean to and try very hard not to but in the business of life, in all its stresses and demands we are forced to narrow our vision, to focus on the coming essay. Or the next thing that needs doing and forget to look up and out.

At the heart of the Christian faith is a similar act of remembrance when we are reminded through the act of breaking bread and pouring out wine of the saving love of Christ. In the Eucharist the past is not simply recalled but is made tangibly real in the present. Through this presence the love of Christ is not a past experience or an idea recalled but a living reality which can be known today and can alter the world around us. Just as Christ’s resurrection transfigured the horrific events of the cross, so through his love for us which is being continually poured out upon us, new life can come from the horrors of war, healing can be found in his saving presence.

It always surprises me that when I ask those who lived through the Second World War what it was like, they often reply that it was the best days of their life. Their memories are not just of fear, destruction and death but also of comradeship and sharing, compassion and concern, cherishing and love. They remember a time when a single, common concern dominated their lives and through it they were brought together in ways we just don’t experience today. It is this corporate life of sharing, Christ-like love, in the midst of a time of violence and suffering, that they recall and miss.

Today is our corporate day when young and old pause for two minute’s silence. It is the only day in the year when, as a nation we are called out of the singularity of our lives to recall and be reminded of the sacrifice of others and the cruel horrors we inflict on each other. In the midst of this we find the cross, reminding us that in his sacrificial love Christ overcomes death and brings life to the most hopeless of situations. For whilst it seems that we are unable to make the state of world peace of which the prophet Micah writes, it is our hope and our faith that through his cross Christ makes himself and his love present in the most meaningless of deaths and through that presence there is healing.

So let us on this Remembrance Sunday remember those who have died as a result of the violence and injustice of war and be reminded of the tree of the cross which through the blood of Christ flowers into the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations and for us. Amen.

The Chaplain
11th November 2007

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