We Will Remember

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

These lines were composed by Robert Laurence Binyon and published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914. They comprise the middle verse of a seven verse poem. Binyon said that this stanza came to him first while sat on a Cornish clifftop looking out to sea a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. The fame of those four lines have eclipsed that of the rest of the poem having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen service men and women.

In recent years we have seen a resurgence of interest in these acts of remembrance, in part because a new generation of servicemen have lost their lives in the conflict in Afghanistan. I wonder what thoughts go through your mind during the traditional two minutes of silence. Sympathy and sadness for the families of the deceased and wounded? Disappointment that the lessons of history haven’t resulted in armed conflict being eradicated from the earth? Gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy on these islands? Certainly those ideas shape my own prayers around Remembrance each year. I am convinced that these acts of national remembrance are a vital component of preserving freedom for future generations.

The call to remember however is not unique to our country, or even modern history. Each year Jews celebrate the feast of Passover and recall how God used Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land. An event that took place 3,300 years ago! Christians too have an act of Remembrance that was instituted by Christ himself just a few hours before he went to the cross. He gathered with his disciples to eat the Passover meal, just as they had done every year of their lives previously. Imagine their amazement when Jesus took the timeless symbols of their heritage and endowed them with new meaning and significance in what we call Communion. The bread was now to symbolise Christ’s own body, about to be crucified. The wine was now to symbolise Christ’s own blood, about to be spilt on the ground. Only later did the disciples truly understand that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was necessary to win new freedom. Not freedom from the shackles of slavery or political domination. Rather to win freedom from bondage to sin and the coming day of judgement. In most Christian traditions this act of remembrance is carried out many times a year reflecting the centrality of the cross to our faith.

At Life Church the monthly cycle of our meetings means that Remembrance Sunday always coincides with the Sunday when we celebrate communion. Both acts of remembrance deserve reverence and solemnity. However when we celebrate communion we do so in the full and certain knowledge that Christ has risen and will come again. So as we think of Christ and say we will remember we can do so with confidence and look joyfully towards the day when we will see him face to face.

This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Hook Focus

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In Memory

During the summer, Ann and I took a walk along a footpath beside Boston Harbour. The views across the water towards the city were quite stunning as various craft weaved their way in and out of the islands. As we walked we noticed several benches had been installed with an inscription ‘In memory of….’ along with a person’s dates of birth and death. No doubt many people use those benches and enjoy the departed person’s favourite view without a moment’s thought for them. For family members, sitting on such a bench is altogether more poignant; perhaps they had walked together there, held hands, kissed, even argued! For them, sitting there is less about the view and more about their connection with a loved one.

Jesus gave his disciples an instruction about what to do in his memory: to share in the simple act of eating some bread and drinking some wine. In some ways this memorial seems as humble and mundane as a park bench, yet actually it is altogether more profound. What goes through your mind as you share communion? Are you like a stranger who barely notices the inscription on the bench; you simply park your bottom to rest your legs and survey the landscape? Or are you a family member who tastes the bittersweet blend of sadness and joy as you reflect on the death of Christ, ‘the friend who is closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18:24)? Perhaps you experience sadness that your sin caused him such pain; joy that his pain has granted you pardon and forgiveness for all your sin.

In John 6:53-59 Jesus tells his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood long before his Last Supper with them. How strange these words must have seemed to them until after Jesus’ resurrection. It is far easier for us to fit those words together with the words Jesus then spoke in the upper room and thirdly the truth of his resurrection. In our churches we tend to emphasise the memorial component of the ‘breaking of bread’. If you read Jesus’ words in John 6 carefully, you will notice that Jesus links eating his flesh and drinking his blood as being fundamental to having life and to remaining in Christ. I believe that in these verses we are being invited to understand that what we call communion is not merely an act of remembrance but is part of God’s provision for us to draw closer to Jesus. If that is true then communion should be the highlight of our Christian walk, the climax of our worship and the place of deepest intimacy with our Saviour. Next time you have the opportunity to share communion, come with great expectancy to meet with Jesus.

This blog post featured in the October 2014 edition of Lifelines