Remembrance Sunday is a hard day. It is a day when we choose to remember. As individuals, as a nation we make a conscious effort to keep a memory alive. Yet, so many of those memories are painful memories. They bring back to mind people and places and events that most of the time we want to keep hidden away because they bring back feelings of sadness, of hurt, of loss, of bitterness, of anger even. It is not easy to control memory and remembrance, we cannot select the bits we want to bring to mind.
If that is true, then why is it that every year we make this conscious effort to remember? Why do we insist on dragging up the past, year after year, reopening old wounds, reliving past nightmares? Many voices urge us to live for the moment, or look to the future – leave the past behind. Why don’t we listen to them?
Think back to the first reading that we had, the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of captivity and into the desert. The people had been living a nightmare. They had been welcome in the land of Egypt, but a new king perceived them as a threat. They were growing in number and strength. Something had to be done. His plan was this – to put them into forced labour, labour that was so hard that the people of Israel cried out to their God. But that was not enough. Pharoah also decreed that every male Hebrew child be thrown into the Nile, I think we might call it ethnic cleansing today.
And out of all of this came Moses, and he led them out of the nightmare and into safety, and together they made elaborate plans to help them remember. They instituted a meal called the Passover meal. Each part of the meal was to be significant. They would eat unleavened bread to remind them of the haste in which they left Egypt – not enough time to cook the bread for the next day. They ate bitter herbs, to remind them of those days of pain and suffering at the hands of the Egyptian task-masters. They remembered not just the joy of liberation, but also the pain that had gone before. Moses promised to lead them through the wilderness and into a land flowing with milk and honey. When they arrived I’m sure there must have been voices raised saying, “Let’s put the past behind us now. Let’s make a new start, a clean page. Why continue this feast of remembrance, there’s no-one alive now who was actually there.”
And yet, to this day, Jewish families and communities observe the feast of the Passover every year. It was during the feast of the passover that Jesus made plans to remember with his disciples – to remember as all Jewish families did with a meal, to remember how God saved his people through Moses. Both Moses and Jesus were born in times of great human pain and cruelty. As Moses was born, the midwives had been commanded to throw all hebrew babies in the river. As Jesus was born, Herod’s soldiers were ordered to kill all new-born babies. Both Moses and Jesus escaped death where thousands did not and their lives were used to bring liberation, liberation from Egypt, liberation from sin and from death itself.
And so at the heart of their faith, the Jews and the Christians have meals of remembrance – the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper. Jews and Christians are remembering in two ways. On the one hand, they are remembering and honouring the great heroes of the faith – Moses and Jesus, and many others who have given their lives in the service of God. But on the other hand, they are doing something much deeper – they are presenting their history as a story of God’s involvement with humankind.
Remembering in this sense is re-membering – a putting back together of all the various parts of the past, an attempt to make sense of what has happened, what has gone before. The Passover meal and the Last Supper both make sense of the past by showing God intimately and passionately involved in the lives of his people – even through those times of extreme horror and human cruelty that we would often like to forget. And what’s more, they show a God who brings liberation and life through all of the pain and the suffering, through all the horror and the cruelty.
This day, Remembrance Sunday, like the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a day to remember. Like those meals, it brings to mind human acts of great human cruelty. Wherever you look – be it the great wars or any of the smaller conflicts that have been fought right across the world, part of our remembrance will be in regret and penitence for the outrages that have been committed in our name and for our failure to find other ways to settle our disputes.
Like the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper, today’s acts of remembrance are a celebration of the bravery of individuals. The selfless way in which people risk their lives to save others.
Like the Passover meal and the Lord’s supper, today’s acts of remembrance will be times of personal mourning. As Mary wept for the loss of her son Jesus, as Rachel wept when the soldiers killed her bairns, as the Hebrew women wept when their healthy baby sons were thrown into the Nile, so many will shed a tear today for loved ones lost through wars and conflicts all around the world.
In this place, a community of God’s people, together at Brixham URC, our remembrance will be all of that, but it will be much more. For our remembrance today should also a re-membering, a putting together of the past, making sense of the past as we put it alongside our Christian Faith.
Like the passover meal, like the last supper, this day of remembrance is an opportunity to affirm our faith in our God who chooses not to be distant and unapproachable, but who chooses to be intimately involved in all that we do. God is not only with us in the fine architecture of our church buildings, or in peaceful monments of quiet reflection. Our God is with us even in the blood and dust and mud of human conflict. And it is our human conflict that tears God apart.
God suffered with the troops in the trenches, God was blown out of the sky in the Battle of Britain.
God stood nervously on the street corner with the soldier in Northern Ireland.
God was torn apart between Serb and Bosnian as they glared at one another with hatred.
God is also with the U.N. soldier, who doesn’t really understand the conflict he is part of, and is longing to be home with his family.
God weeps with the mother and child as they are told that daddy has been killed on exercise on the other side of the world, he won’t be coming home anymore.
You see, God does not take sides, he is there on both sides, weeping with those who weep, sharing the fear of those who are in danger, feeling the pain of those who are wounded, knowing the anxiety of those who have to make painful decisions, offering to bring healing and peace to those who know they have done wrong.
Our remembrance reminds us that our God chooses to do all of that, to be torn apart by our weakness and failure, to go through it all with us, because he is a loving God, because he is our Father God, because he counts each one of us as His children. He will always be there to help us pick up the pieces.
And our remembrance will be one more thing. It will not be a mere recounting of the past, it will not be a passing glance at fading photographs and lists of half-forgotten names and deeds, it will be a remembrance with faith and hope for the future. If we know where we have come from, we know who we are. If we can see the paths that our past has taken, we can choose wisely paths for the future. But most of all, when we have seen our God sticking with us, despite everything, then what better foundation can we hope for to build our future together?
Let us pray…
Loving God, we remember today with regret, the evils of war;
we remember today with thanksgiving, the selfless bravery of so many;
we remember today with pain, all of the people war and conflict have taken from us;
we remember today with faith, how you have been there with us through it all;
we remember today with hope, for you have proved your promise that there is nothing that can
separate us from your love in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.