Remembrance A sermon preached by Canon Brian Mountford 11 November 2007 As we reflect on Remembrance today, I want to think about three things, moving on, looking back, and holding others in mind. ‘Well you’ve got to move on, haven’t you’ is a catch phrase of our time. It’s part of the ‘now’ culture. Indeed my own children have often said it to me, ‘Oh come on Dad, move on, let it go’, as if I’m some old fuddy duddy or stick in the mud. And of course to move on is a natural and necessary survival instinct, you can’t get mired in the past. It always seems extraordinary to me how when someone dies, on the whole, we are able to move on; because we accept our mortality, this is what happens, this is life, we can’t bring them back, and we still have lives to live. Instinctively we look forward rather than back. Of course sometimes we have such a grief, such a sense of loss, that we find it impossible to cope; and occasionally bereavement is so severe an experience we need to seek professional help to deal with it. Or there’s the case of the McCanns and the loss of their little daughter, Madeleine. The newspapers have been full of it and several commentators have asked, tragic though the situation is, why can’t the McCanns move on? Other people have to do it, why can’t they? Isn’t there something weirdly morbid about this very public refusal to move on? So there’s good and bad in moving on. But what about looking back? Yesterday I went on a trip down memory lane to the town where I grew up, walking through Epping Forest, looking at the primary school I attended, 1880, council brick, the outside toilets now a redundant feature of a modernised playground. We drove past the church I attended, where my vocation was formed: once a semi-rural chapel in extensive grounds, now hemmed in by flats and near a busy urban roundabout. This was the church where on Remembrance Sunday I enjoyed the uniforms and the buglers, but also the place where my father, a pacifist and conscientious objector, found that particular day one of the most difficult of the year. So yesterday I re-read that topographical map, the imprint of which carries my early experience and attempts at relationship. When we look back we see ourselves in context – if we had no personal history we wouldn’t be persons at all; if our memories were wiped clean we just wouldn’t know where to start trying to become human again. We are defined and shaped by our pasts, whether we like them or not; and of course some of us don’t like them and spend our lives trying to run away from our roots. We are all part of a tradition, of a historical continuity that runs beyond birth and death. In our particular community, we live in the tradition of the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, Winston Churchill, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Kant, Hegel, Michelangelo, Picasso, Andy Warhol, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, the Beatles. (Sorry this list could become boring), but our lives are shaped by such people and what they represent. In learning about them we learn about how to interpret and live the present At this time of year the Church does a lot of looking back. First there is All Saints, when we look back to the heros, inspirers and leaders of the Church – what the writer to the Hebrews calls the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, then All Souls when we remember our own domestic dead. Now on Remembrance Day we remember those men and women of the armed forces who died in war, some volunteers, some conscripted, many brave, many frightened, not just the First and Second World Wars, but in the contemporary wars of the Falklands, the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. By remembering we give meaning to those lives, in a sense we make the dry bones live, as I shall try to develop in a moment. And we do this because we recognise a debt that needs to be honoured, a debt to those who have suffered on our behalf. As much as we would wish there to be no war, we know that from time to time evil must be countered with force; but equally we know that the political decisions we make to go to war in the first place are often themselves very flawed. That’s why we pray today, in the splendid collect, that the ‘families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, may be subject to Christ’s just and gentle rule’. Thirdly there is holding others in mind. We all want to be remembered. How many Christmas cards did you get? Who cares about you? Being prayed for – just to know that others are thinking about you. A phone call home to mum, does a power of good. Being remembered gives us meaning and being remembered is a very significant part of life after death. God holds us in his mind This is an argument that Keith Ward tries to explain in ‘What the bible really teaches’. If I have got it right, it goes something like this. Ward takes as a key text, Colossians 1:17 ‘He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together’. This is God/Christ. This, he argues, means that the created universe exists in order that God’s ‘Wisdom’, or God’s values, can be realised. God has created it for that purpose. It’s like when an author writes a book to express his or her ideas – the book reveals the writer’s nature. What’s going on, for example, in J K Rowling’s head? She has created Harry Potter, imagined his life, but importantly she has got it down on paper, materialised it. You might say also, with the help of others materialised those ideas in film. We all have great ideas for stories and books, maybe our own story, but most of us don’t manage to get it out onto paper. In a similar way ‘we might say that the material universe is the materialised thought of God’, so Colossians pictures the universe as the thought of God. Then, in what I find a difficult but attractive leap, he says that a thought is only a thought so long as it lasts in the mind of the thinker. But God is eternal. Therefore all that is is held in the mind of God – ‘in him we live and move and have our being’, quoted in Acts. For a long time I have absorbed this idea into my own theology, without having worked it out in the systematic way that Keith does, and have expressed it many times here and in writing: we have meaning and we exist beyond the limits of our mortal life because we are held in the mind of God. God remembers us; God thinks about us…and therefore we are. Our meaning and long term significance is in the fact that God remembers us. And that is what we are doing today for those who have died in conflict, giving a meaning to lives where the experience of death has been traumatic, sometimes where families have felt deep bitterness about their loss, and not forgetting those servicemen and women who have not been killed but suffered long term disablement, nightmares and mental breakdown. Move on, look back, keep others in mind as God does. I don’t know if you can find any meaning in this line of thought, but it makes quite a lot of sense to me.
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