Homily given by Fr Peter Anthony on Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 2010.
What is Christian Remembrance?
It sometimes seems as though the main thing that characterises academic life, is the endless attempt to remember things. Collections to be revised for; Final exams with all that cramming. So much information to be remembered. In the midst of all that it’s hardly surprising there are quite a few self-help books around designed to help you improve your memory when it comes to exams. I was reading one the other day full of cunning strategies: spider diagrams; flash cards; even the suggestion that your choice of cologne can make a difference. If you wear the same fragrance on the day of the exam as you did to revise that subject, your mind will apparently be much more able to recall the information you need.
Over the past few weeks we have in a broader sense been in a season of remembering. We have just kept All Souls’ Day, when we remembered before the Lord all the faithful departed. A few days after that was Bonfire Night: “Remember, remember, 5th November; gunpowder, treason and plot.” And now we keep Remembrance Sunday when we pray for those who have fallen in war.
All those sorts of remembering may seem quite different, but they actually have one thing in common. They all involve fear of forgetting. The fear of forgetting the horrors of war so that similar conflicts should never happen again. The fear of forgetting the cherished memories of our closest loved ones. The fear of getting into the exam room and not knowing the answer. It seems that we remember so that memories are kept alive. We remember to keep the spectre of forgetting at bay.
Is that all that there is to say about Remembrance? Is it just about keeping memories alive, the recalling of past events? I think one of the things we are called to re-discover each year around this time is that for the Christian, Remembrance is much more than that.
The point is this. All too often we think of remembering as something dependent on our efforts. Our ability to recall. Our determination not to forget.
One of the things that today’s commemoration shows us afresh, however, is that when Christians remember the departed, we do so knowing that they live in Christ. When Christians remember, we participate in a living reality. In our baptism, we were incorporated into Christ, made one with him. We were a given a new identity as sons and daughters of God. Not just were we given a new identity but we were given the gift of new life, eternal life with him who triumphed over death. That bond is something which the grave cannot overcome. Even though many years may distance us from those who have died, we share a kinship with them, which is indestructible. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not just recalling past events, no, through our remembrance, we share in a deep, living, communion with the departed. This is never more evident and more effectual than when we celebrate the Eucharist together just as we did on All Souls’ Day praying particularly for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
If that is the case, then we discover something else. We discover that we no longer need to be haunted by that terror of forgetting. Christian remembrance is not just about the desperate attempt to keep the memory of our loved ones alive, for we know that in God they will never die. They will never be forgotten.
In fact, in a funny way we discover that Christian remembrance is not about us doing the remembering. Rather it is rejoicing in the fact that it is God who remembers us. He knows us and cherishes us, and remembers us in his Son. We need not fear being forgotten. It is the solemn recognition each year that it is God who remembers us, that we are part of a bigger picture, the bigger picture of life with him that we share with those who have died. When we remember, we are participating in the eternal act of endless remembering and loving which is the life of heaven, that perfect society, where war, violence, and death are no more, and men and women enjoy that eternal peace which is God’s will for us.