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