Sunday, November 14, 2021

November - Remember

November is the season of remembrance – and not just the remembrance of the Fallen in conflict.  Within the church’s Calendar, on the 1st of November, we remember all the Saints who have lived exemplary lives.  All Saints, or All Hallows as the old English tongue had it…preceded, of course, by the festivities of All Hallows Eve…Hallowe’en.  

Then, on the second of November, comes ‘All Souls’, during which we remember and pray for all the departed.  Some traditions insist on praying for all the faithful departed – but many of us don’t draw such a distinction.  We remember all who have died – especially, this year, all we have lost to Covid and the Climate Disaster.  We hold them up to the love of our heavenly Father, from which (as St Paul says) nothing can separate us.  We pray that they may rest in peace, and one day rise in glory, for that is the best thing we can do.

Then…Remember Remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot:  a rather more secular festival, in which we remember an act of terrorism, thwarted.  Personally, I’m not so keen on marking the 5th of November – because the events of that night arose out of a religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants.  It’s a conflict that we have, thankfully, put largely behind us in history, and whilst (as with all history) we must mark it, and learn from it, I feel uncomfortable about celebratory fireworks being used in token of it.  

Then, the 11th.  Armistice Day.  We remember when the guns fell silent on the battlefields of the First World War.  It’s a date which grows ever distant from us in time, especially since the death of Harry Patch and his chums a few years ago.  But like our remembrance of the long-dead Saints, and all the departed, it’s a remembrance worth doing: bringing to mind, as it does, the carnage of industrial-scale warfare, and the sacrifice of both willing heroes and reluctant conscripts on our behalf.

And now, here we are, on Remembrance Sunday – when our remembrance is enlarged and expanded to include all those we have lost from this community to the drum-beat, the scars and the madness of warfare.  Here in this building, we remember the men of the Havant Volunteers at the Battle of Waterloo, whose battled-scarred standard still hangs over the heads of 16 Regiment today.  We remember the crew and military passengers of HMS Havant, lost during the evacuation of Dunkirk.  We remember the crews of the HMS Sheffield and the Coventry, lost in the Falklands conflict.  One of their fellow sailors is now the Captain of our Bellringers, here – and we therefore ring a special peel of bells each year, on the anniversaries of their fall.  We remember Corporal David O’Connor, a son of this parish, whose mother still worships here – in whose honour the cross on our altar today was fashioned from gun shells.  And many more besides – like Acting Captain John Philip Blake of the Royal Marines, killed in action while serving with the 43rd Commandos in 1944, to whom the lectern we use at practically every service is dedicated.  We honour each one of these, because, as Jesus said, “no-one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Remembrance is, of course, at the heart of Christian worship.  Every time we celebrate the feast of Communion, we remember the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Every time we eat the bread and drink the cup, we ‘do this in remembrance’ of him.

But what is the purpose of all this ‘remembering’?  And what does it mean to ‘remember’?  Let me invite you to contemplate the word itself: “Re-member”.  It means the active task of bringing-together those members of our community whom we have lost.  When we speak their names, or even see their faces in our mind’s eye, they are restored to us again, albeit for a moment in time.   To speak a name is, in some sense to give that person life again.  Whether I say Jesus Christ, or David O’Connor, or John Blake or any of the other names on the Memorial outside - they are re-membered.  They are brought back into our lives, and into our consciousness.   Their contribution to the life and safety of this community is honoured, while they themselves are mourned.  They are members of this community once again.  They are re-membered.

Let us, then, never cease from such a sacred task.  There will be many today who imagine that what we do together in this place is pointless, or unnecessarily jingoistic.  Many will criticise us for somehow glorifying war, when in fact all that any of us seeks is peace.  

Many will go about their normal Sunday business today – spending money in the shops, or playing football in the Sunday leagues, or visiting yet another tea-room in another stately home.  Many will be completely unware that the freedom they have to do these things is due to the sacrifice of the Fallen.  Many will fail to realise that the menu from which they choose their scone is in English, not German, because of the sacrifice of the fallen.  Many will fail to understand that the freedom they have to criticise their Government, or another political party comes out of the liberty for which the Fallen fought.  Many will walk on by this building, and the War Memorial outside, without any idea of how much it is a repository of this community’s memory.

But not us.  We are determined to do what is right – morally, spiritually, practically, to honour the memory of those who gave their lives for our freedom, and for our liberty.  We will bring them back together in our minds and in our hearts.  We will honour their sacrifice.  In the face of incomprehension, in the face of opposition and in the face of those who just can’t be bothered…we WILL remember them.  Amen.

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