This month we do a great deal of remembering. We remember the dead on All Hallows Eve which has become Halloween. We remember the plot to blow up Parliament by Guy Faukes and today we remember those killed in the two World Wars.
I am one of those as many of you, who was brought up in post war Britain, into rationing and rebuilding the country from the bombing. In my dad’s workshop there was a metal helmet and I lived in a house owned by the Royal Navy, where there was a room with a map of Europe and flags denoting battles, which we used to play with.
At the risk of sounding like a Levellers song, my uncle was killed in Normandy, my grandfather was bombed in the Somme and my father was in the Artic Convoy and served on the aircraft carrier Flat Top. My mother was an ARP and Land Girl. My friend Barbara’s dad was captured by the Japanese and had night traumas. My first primary school teacher worked in the resistance in France.
People’s lives were on hold and there was a seize the day, Carpe Diem attitude as evidenced in my mother’s diaries of the time. You didn’t know if you would survive the day. No family in the country at that time was unaffected by the war and the NHS was created as a response to the Wars and a sense of common unity and compassion that was created at that time.
But my generation was also post Hiroshima and Nakasaki and the horror of what nuclear bombs can do. Then Cuba. So inevitably there were many people who said no more, never again and hence the white poppy was born.
Remembering is a risk. When we remember we are trying to understand our past to understand where we are today. And often remembering is painful. Every year my mother grieved for her brother in November and laid a cross for him at a memorial.
And as we remember the horrors of the two world wars and the price of the mindless deaths of men in the trenches in France, fighting for freedom from Nazi tyranny, the Holocaust, the effect on the life and fabric of the nation, we remember too, the importance of diplomacy, of people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to prevent war, and to mediate after wars. I worked in Milton Keynes with two churches whose older folk were largely employed at MI5 at Bletchley, Cranfield and at the Foreign Office in Hanslope. The cost for these people was often their minds. For too long they had carried secrets and led double lives.
War comes at a high cost. Look at Syria.
Jesus says in Matthew 26 “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” How we live affects how we die. War mongering is not to be mindlessly encouraged.
In remembering we are putting together the jigsaw pieces of our lives to be become whole. To be re-membered.
16 million people were killed in World War One. In World War Two over 60 million people were killed, including 6 million Jews. Millions of people are displaced today in the world because of wars.
In the Old Testament the people of God, the Israelites, were forever being called by God to remember – to remember who they were, where they had come from – and it was usually at times in their life when things were going wrong. God asks his people to remember. And right remembering, honourable remembering, requires both honesty and vision from us. Honesty about our past.
In the reading from Matthew Jesus talks of those who mourn that they will be comforted. If you are a peacemaker you will be blessed. The word in Hebrew is Barak.
Today there are many organisations working for reconciliation throughout the world, reconciling communities and resolving conflict.
God’s ultimate promise for us is that one day there will be no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain – we will get out of our cycles of violence and war.
The poppy is a symbol of our remembering. Our poppy reminds us also of the vision God calls us to as we remember. And how remembering should lead to wholeness. We will remember them.