I make the point in funeral services that remembrance is very much concerned with shared memories, of re-membering, of picking up and joining together the scattered associations of a life. Remembrance-tide is also concerned with understanding and reflecting upon the tragedy and loss of people in different times and places. We literally re-member, we re-form or re-constitute somebody or something that we have loved and see know longer. Re-membrance is about putting back the pieces of something that was thought lost, like the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
So re-membering is the opposite of forgetting. We have a duty to remember, to re-connect, to re-concile ourselves to the ones we love. And we do this in an attempt to overcome a real sense of brokenness. Sometimes we need help in our re-membering. In which case our memories are aided by signs, symbols and words. The poppy which we wear over our hearts at this time of year is deeply significant, conveying the devastation of Europe and the loss of a generation of young men. We wear the poppy today as a sign of reconciliation with the past horrors of war and as a mark of respect for those who died in the armed conflict.
The poem, In Flanders Fields, famously cries out to those who survive the war to end all wars not to “break faith with us who die.” Re-member us, do not allow us to be forgotten. The poet cries, it is your duty never to forget.
“During the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. An exploding German artillery shell landed near him. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae. As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.“(www.greatwar.co.uk)
Wherever there is a war memorial in this country, there will also be countless stories of loss and tragedy. This Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, despite the pandemic, people will make a special effort to remember. At 11am on Sunday a silence will pervade the nation in honour of those who died fighting against the evils of power, corruption and injustice. Although we will not be holding a ceremony at that time, we will record a service so that many more people will be able to join in and remember. We will be reminded not to ignore the past, but to give thanks for those who have gone before us who, in many respects, have paved our way. In many churches throughout the land, memorials become signs of our heritage, giving us an identity and purpose.
Modern day memorials look quite different. Such as the tragic bunching of flowers on roadsides like the site of the death of Mark Bolan, popstar of the seventies with the group T-Rex. The memorial is ongoing, fans mark the death of their hero with a flower vigil. We also remember the famous “outpouring of national grief” at the death of Princess Diana and how Kensington Gardens was awash with floral tributes.
Some disagree with the sentiment of the remembrance which, for them, alludes to the celebration of war, the extolling of conflict. However, the Christian symbol of remembrance is also the Christian symbol of hope: the cross. When asked, ‘do I believe in the resurrection, the life after death, the paradise promised us by Jesus?’ I can only say that that is my hope, but I cannot say for sure because, contrary to popular opinion I haven’t died. All I can do as an authentic response to my brothers and sisters who have died before me is to re-member them, with love, in prayer. That is my duty and my joy.