On this day when we join with so many nations around the world to remember the Armistice that called the guns to silence and an end to the slaughter in 1918, when we remember the countless other lives lost, given and taken in so many conflicts since … what, I wonder, does it mean to remember? I recently read an article that caught my attention: ‘Are we forgetting how to remember?’
As a child, I knew of relatives who had fought in the first war and in the second. My parents and grandparents could recall personal stories of their involvement in war, in the army and as civilians. I eagerly devoured these stories of family history and I remember them today … but what does it mean to remember?
It was HG Wells, who created one of the most remembered phrases from the first world war that remains in general use today. Writing a series of articles that later became a book entitled: ‘The war that will end war’, he writes: ‘The real task of mankind … is to end not simply a war, but the idea of war …’
To remember, I suggest, is to pay attention to others, to those who have shaped our lives and whom we see no more. To remember is to consider our shared humanity and mortality. To remember is to honour the fallen and what they fought and died for on land, sea and in the air. To remember is to keep alive the consciousness of the hell of war and the destruction and evil we continue to inflict upon one another, and which we see all too readily on our TV screens today. And as we remember, if we can remember in a spirit of forgiveness … so much the better. For in doing so, we can remember the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made upon the cross in order that all our folly, all our failure, prejudices and lack of forgiveness might be, forgiven.
But surely, in a modern pluralistic, multi-racial nation and culture, we need to ‘forgive and forget’ don’t we?
During the recent persecution of the church in Melanasia, many Christians have been murdered for their faith. At a meeting of clergy to discuss how the church may move forward and maintain their witness to God’s love amongst the hate and violence, one priest said: ‘We must forgive and forget.’ Challenged by his Bishop he was asked; ‘Where do you get that notion from?’ He replied .. ‘Why from the Bible’. The Bishop handed him a Bible and asked him to find a page that supported his claim. The priest is still searching, for when we look for the word ‘forget’ in the Bible we see it connected with two others: DO NOT. God says to His people, DO NOT forget all the goodness I have shown you, do not forget who I am, do not forget my love for you, do not forget my son and why he came, do not forget that I have a plan for you and your life and it is one that is designed to bless you.
Watching a recent recording of the TV programme, DIY SOS, I was deeply moved by the common humanity that brought together scores of craftsmen and women to transform the home of a mother recently paralysed through an accident. The lady in question later ‘tweeted’: ‘The world is full of beautiful people and I want to thank you all.’
To forgive and not forget, is not to live in the past burdened with old prejudices, hurt and hatred – but to focus on the good that is in us all. The good that drives us to express our love in wonderful ways, the good that God has placed inside each and every one of us, the good that bears sacrifice for others and recognises that somethings are worth fighting for and dying for.
Our first reading highlighted a different world to aspire to … one free from bitterness, rage, anger, malice, falsehood and violence. We would do well to consider what that world might look like and the extent to which Jesus was prepared to go to secure its possibility for you and for me.
HG Wells concludes his book with this thought – ‘War goes on, because we who are voices still have no strength to turn on the light that would save us’
The Bible teaches us that that light is amongst us and very accessible should we but desire to grasp it and remember the sacrifice that was made, that we could attain it.
And so, we remember, and as we do so, we join billions of others across our world. We remember, not to glorify war but to honour the memory of those who have sacrificed everything that we might experience a different future.
With the Lord’s blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale