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
Up and down the country millions of people will be observing 2 minutes silence as the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month approaches. If recent years are anything to go by there will also be acts of remembrance at stadiums at the start of sporting fixtures around that time. Churches too will uphold the tradition of observing remembrance at 11:00am on the nearest Sunday which this year is 9th November. Here in Hook there is a tradition of laying wreaths at 9:00am at the War Memorial near the junction of Newnham Lane and the A30 which everyone is welcome to attend.
The date and time of the Act of Remembrance is fixed by the time when the armistice was signed, bringing to an end the ‘war to end all wars’ in 1918. So, although this year has seen many events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, it won’t be until 2018 that the parallel commemorations of the end of that terrible conflict will take place. Between 28 July 1914 and 11 November 1918, 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians lost their lives. Added together the number of military personnel from both sides recorded as dead, wounded or missing in action amounted to almost 49 million people (more people than many entire nations). This is a staggering number of casualties; one which emphasises the importance of these centenary commemorations which will run over into the next four years.
Tragically the war to end all wars has been anything but, as armed conflict has continued to preoccupy international relations right up to the present day. Only last month western governments once again ordered their forces to operate offensive missions. According to one source 160 million people died in wars in the 20th century and already almost 700,000 people have died in armed conflict in the 21st century.
On Sunday 9th November Life Church will be observing the 2 minutes silence in an event that will attempt to bring together strands of historical significance from 100 years ago along with recognition of the impact of modern conflict in modern Britain. Join us for our meeting which starts at 10:30am in the Elizabeth Hall as we pray for peace across all the nations of the world and seek to find hope amidst the ongoing conflict which appears almost daily on our TV screens. Whether you join us for this contemporary commemoration or participate in a more traditional one our prayer is that this world may yet become a safer place for future generations.
This blog post featured in the November 2014 edition of Hook Focus
He was a young man, still in the prime of life, strong, healthy, loved by his family and a wide circle of devoted friends. Although he was not married, as the eldest son, he had taken responsibility for helping his mother raise a family because his own father had died while he was still a teenager. Now he too was dying. As he bled and gasped for breath, he could see right into the eyes of the soldiers who had fatally wounded him. What goes through a dying man’s mind? Worries for his family? Concern for his friends? Thoughts about the purpose and meaning of his own life? Emotions towards the men who were killing him?
With the 11th November Remembrance events coming up soon, perhaps you thought this description was of one of the fallen from the 2 World Wars, or perhaps a soldier who has been killed or maimed in the more recent conflicts in the Gulf and Afghanistan. It is good to remember with gratefulness those who have sacrificed their lives and their limbs for the freedom we enjoy in this country. It is good to offer comfort and support for family and friends who have been left behind. It is good to pray that wars and armed conflicts will cease and that there will be peace amongst all the nations on the earth. You are welcome to join us for our act of remembrance which starts at 10:30am in the Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 11th November, when we will do just that.
In fact when I wrote those opening words, I had in mind Jesus hanging on a cross. Jesus, who looked into the eyes of his executioners and said “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Jesus, who spoke to his best friend and his mother saying “Son behold your mother, mother behold your son”. Jesus, who as he breathed his last breath gasped “It is finished”. He said this not out of a sense of resignation, but out of the knowledge that in his death his whole life purpose was accomplished. Only hours before, he had instructed his friends to remember his death as the means by which we can receive forgiveness. This November 11th, as you recall the sacrifices made by British servicemen to preserve our present life, allow your thoughts to go back a further 2 thousand years and remember Christ who died so that you too can enjoy eternal life.
This blog post featured in the November 2012 edition of Hook Focus