Over the next three days, millions will be joining together at the Cenotaph, at local war memorials, in churches, schools, on football pitches, in acts of remembrance. Why? The answer seems obvious: we are uniting in honouring those who have given their lives to protect our lives and way of life. Do we even need to ask this?
Across the one hundred plus years of the annual Act of Remembrance, from the early years to today, there have been critics who have questioned its value. Some have protested that it places too much focus on the past and that it, deliberately or unconsciously, perpetuates tensions of conflict boundaries. Or have we turned the Act into a sort of ritual pageant, made a show out of a solemn moment? They suggest we should instead be laying all this to rest and moving on. Others have worried that, in remembering the fallen, there is not enough thought and support given to the many who have survived but carry the burdens of wounds, PTSD and post-institutional living. Some have asked why, as the Church already remembers the dead in the services of All Saints and All Souls, do we need also to have a service commemorating those who have died in war.
Yes, as Christians we do celebrate the saints: all those who have tried to live their lives in service to God; and celebrate all souls: all whom we have loved and commended into God’s welcome and kingdom. And yes, it is important that we also come before God to remember those who have died in war, loved, gone but not lost, and to reflect that war is never far from any of us, that conflict seems built into our human nature. We come together to respond to that.
The two-minute silence is a moment of stillness and unity in which to recognise the sacrificial service of all who put themselves at risk to combat injustice, work for welfare, bring rescue and aid where needed. It is a moment of stillness in unity with those whose lives have been damaged by conflict, and the families who live a daily sacrifice of love supporting their members serving in dangerous places. For Christians, this time of stillness and prayer for those who have died in war, for those who are living with the consequences of war, and for peace, is one moment in one day in a never-ending prayer for the world and for the courage and strength to be the peace-makers to which Christ has called us.
Having a service of remembrance is at the heart of who, as Christians, we are. Christ came to us, into a world of wars, political jousting and hates, to teach a new way of living and to bring healing. He died an innocent victim of human power struggles and, in his resurrection, he opened the door to new life. By his grace Christ re-members us, draws us back into his wholeness, reconciles us with God and invites us into reconciliation and restoration with each other. This is shalom or salam: the gift of wholeness, true health, peace, and we give our praise and gratitude to God for this. In every Eucharist we are called to remember Christ and to be united in the good news of his presence with us through all troubles and his promise of life with him forever. In response, we go out to love and serve him in all the ways he has shown us, towards this peace in a troubled world. This is remembering: of the past into the present and for the future, a daily reorienting to his promise of hope and life.
I pray that the peace of the Lord be with you in the coming days and beyond.
Image courtesy of Lucy G