St Bride's: A Point Of View

We will remember

Matthew 13: 3-8

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And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

We will remember

Detail from a picture by Charlotte Vonberg, Verger at St Bride's.

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The British do remembering. We're rather good at it. 'It's clear that many of us in Britain are in love with the past', said Ian Hislop at the start of his recent BBC series. But he went on to observe that often it's not so much history we are in love with as 'the olden days' - and idealised, imagined past which was summed up in Sellars and Yeatman's witty parody 1066 and all that - brave Britons defending ourselves against bullying Romans, good Kings beating bad Kings in battle, nations rising and falling, except of course, for Britain which miraculously always remained 'top nation'.

Those of a certain age can probably remember history being taught rather like this. Then came the reaction against a top down view of history. Real history, it was argued, was 'bottom-up', and so we got thematic, project-based teaching, a selective approach designed to highlight the struggles of the masses and the forgotten millions. Then came Michael Gove, and return to a more linear, overarching way of teaching history. And, oh dear, look what happened to him!

Remembering is political whether we like it or not. Nevertheless, how we remember the past is important, and it is particularly important for the Christian. There's an awful lot of remembering in the Bible, both in the Old Testament where the Hebrew people are called to remember their roots - their slavery in Egypt and their deliverance, and are told that to forget it is to forego their identity and their purpose. And in the New Testament remembering was of vital importance both for Jesus and for the early church; in the Eucharist remembering the actions of Christ in taking bread and wine was and is, to take the long-standing remembrance of God and turn it into something new and life-changing in the present.

What Christians remember in the Eucharist is an act of triumph, but it is the triumph of vulnerable love in the face of suffering symbolised by a cross.

The question that must always be in the mind of anybody serving in the armed forces is 'Why?' 'Why am I doing this? What is it for?' And 'does it serve a bigger meaning and a wider purpose?'

It was a question the war poets asked persistently and powerfully, and so one of our problems with WW1 is that we see it through the filter of WW1 poetry, especially Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden and Wilfred Owen. That filter means that the received understanding of WW1 is that it was a pointless and terrible slaughter, waged by incompetent generals, that should never have started and could have been stopped.

More recently however, historians like Sir Max Hastings have argued that although it was a terrible event, as war always is, it was a just and necessary war to stop an aggressive and militaristic Germany from overwhelming Europe. Far too many of our young men died, but they did not die in vain, because the cause of standing firm against the aggressor was justified. That, with the hindsight of nearly 100 years, seems to me a cooler and more reasonable assessment of WW1, and it means that we can commemorate the beginning of WW1, yes, with sorrow, but not with shame.

In the immediate aftermath of the war's end, many people, in trying to make sense of the sacrifice of so many young men, turned to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and many war memorials make an explicit connection between the young men commemorated and the Cross of Christ. This is because the Cross encompasses the pain and sorrow of physical death, and the hope of resurrection and new life. So in all our remembering, today and over the next four years, we must never lose sight of that hope. As we remember them the dead do indeed live again, and in the crucified and Risen Christ, made present in this and every eucharist, we place our hope for the future, and find a peace which all the wars of humankind cannot ever take away.

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