Saturday, 10 November 2012

Re-imagining Remembrance

They say that everyone has a  good novel inside them. Similarly I had one good Remembrance sermon inside me ...but I gave it last year ('Blessed are the peacemakers'). That was it.

But now it's that time of year again I have to come up with another one. My heart sinks.

I find it so hard thinking about War.  I'm pretty against it, to be honest. I look at it almost entirely from a mother's point of view and mothers do not generally want their sons and daughters to go off to fight, kill and die. 

I'm getting the feeling the rest of The Church of England has a somewhat ambivalent relationship to Remembrance. It's a time of year when a peculiar alliance of Church and State brings thoughts about the war dead into focus for many who have no specific religious views at all. I don't know many clergy who relish it, and quite a few who dread it. One friend found himself in conflict with a uniformed society who wanted to lay their 'colours' on the altar during the service. The altar is only for remembering Christ's sacrifice, right? Or wrong? How can the church be prophetic about the horrors of war, preach Christ as the 'ultimate sacrifice' and at the some time fulfil its role as national church, providing a liturgical framework for honouring the dead?

This ambivalence is reflected in the confusion over readings. The Lectionary has Jonah 3, Hebrews 9 on sacrifice and Mark 1, the calling of the first disciples. Rosalind Brown in the faith section of Church Times this week writes: 'Today's readings make no special concessions to Remembrance Sunday, which is appropriate, because war makes no special concessions to our lives'. All very fine but what is a preacher supposed to do? Preach as though it isn't Remembrance? She then tries to link the Remembrance-inappropriate readings to Remembrance.

The Anglican on line 'Visual Liturgy', by contrast, offers 'Remembrance Readings' from Micah 4's vision of peace, something from the Apocrypha that my Protestant self has never read; Romans 8: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ  - and no gospel.

And herein lies the exact problem for a Minister of the gospel. Is it just another Sunday where we are preaching the Good News, with whatever reference to Remembrance feels appropriate, or should all normal preaching be abandoned and the preacher 'preach' on war and the 'pity of war'? 

Should I be wearing a white poppy as well as a red?

What if you're a pacifist? Can you still 'do' Remembrance?

Perhaps as fewer people alive actually remember either World War, we will have to re imagine remembrance somehow. What will that look like?


  1. You can be any kind of "-ist" and still do a good job at Remembrance. The key, even for non-Pacifists is to give proper remembrance to those who have died in war (both soldiers and civilians on all sides) and to avoid glorifying war as some easy solution even when it is justified to further peace and justice.

  2. I'm with Drew_Mac on this one. I view Remembrance as a pastoral ministry, and the modern remembrance services promoted by CTBI, and on which the Times and Seasons Remembrance service is based, has quite a focus on repentance and peace. I certainly try to avoid the temptation to "patriotism" sometimes associated with it. We do not sing, for example, "I vow to thee, my country," and I had a bit of a run-in with one of my PCCs about "O valiant hearts," which was resolved when one of my neighbours supplied me with (heavily) revised words I could sing with integrity.

    Quite a few years ago now, before I was ordained, I led my first Remembrance service as a Reader. I was acutely conscious that the congregation included a German woman who had joined us with her young family a few months previously. It certainly made us think about the dynamic of the service.

  3. This is my homily contribution for tomorrow. Despite the lectionary not being helpful, I have chosen a gospel reading of my own.

    John 15: 9-17.

    As we grow older it’s natural at times like these to look back and reminisce of what and who has gone before. Another feature of getting older is that some of your tastes change, and I find myself often being ridiculed by my nephew, who I hasten to add is 6 years old, about my taste in music, apparently Radio 2 is now very ‘uncool’!
    That said I found myself listening to Chris Evan’s Breakfast show the other morning in the car and the Thought for the Day slot. In it Fr Christopher Jamison famous for being the caring Abbot of Worth Abbey on the BBC’s programme The Monastery, spoke about his work with homeless youth. He asks them a question, that I would like to ask you this morning, What kind of person would you really like to be? It’s a question that brings up all sorts of thoughts and feelings about our lives today, our lives tomorrow and our lives yesterday. What’s important, is do you live for today or yesterday. As I have just said days like today make us think about the past, and this then often leads us to possible regrets. But what’s so awesomely wonderful about God is that he’s not that interested in the past. In asking for his forgiveness for the wrongs that we have done, he offers us his love and forgiveness to move on and forward into today and the future. Without laying those sure foundations of solid values and love, as Fr Jamison said the other morning, ‘fame and fortune will collapse, as bankers have found to their cost, and ours. Virtue is not an optional extra, it’s essential to the common good.’ And in our gospel reading this morning we are given a head start on those virtues, for Jesus tells us that if we keep his commandments we are keeping in his love, if we keep his commandments we will have complete joy.
    Further on in the passage Jesus tells us that no one has greater love than to lay down their life for their friend, an act that he himself would be doing very soon on the cross. An act also that many in their hundreds of thousands have done in wars throughout our age. Wars in the name of religion and God have been all too common and it’s an easy identification of ‘our’ side with God’s side. This has been a major problem since Christianity became the official Roman religion in the 4th century. This all sits uneasily alongside our gospel passage which is about love not war. In a world of danger and wickedness, it won’t do for everyone to pretend there are no hard decisions to be made. But precisely one of the great dangers, and great wickednesses, of the world is the very common belief that fighting is a fine thing, that war is a useful way of settling disputes, and that, to put is crudely, might is right.
    One of the greatest lessons that we as Christians can learn is that we are not in charge, God is. The assurance of this comes in the last few lines of the gospel reading. ‘you did not choose me, but I chose you,’ We did not choose Jesus, he chose us. The decision to follow him though, does indeed rest with us. So as we set out into the tomorrows remembering with love and gratitude those who made that ultimate sacrifice, we ask ourselves, what kind of person would you really like to be? The solid foundational virtues to set us on the straight path are there in the gospel and love of Christ for the taking, if we want them. Amen.

  4. Thanks for all this terribly helpful comment. It's made me feel a bit more positive about tomorrow. Especially thanks for your homily, Andrew. Really good passage to choose by the look of it. Basically next year I need to devote more time to this whole thing. It would fall in my busiest week in a long time, hence the stress around the sermon:)

  5. I ditch the lectionary as provided and go for the Beatitudes see
    but then again, I work in Communities which are closely engaged in Service life. Bickleigh is a Royal Marines Base, Elson was next to a Naval Base and for both these communities, Remembrance actually *means* something. I don't relish it in a jingoistic way, but treating it seriously and reflectively is important round here.