Remembering - 100 years on
The 11th November 2018 is of course a significant date - the centenary of the armistice or general cease fire that led to the end of the First World War. Soon afterwards, the tradition arose of holding a Remembrance day parade or a simple act of remembering. With the passage of time it seems that Remembrance Day has become observed more strongly rather than less.
There is something in the way we tick, the way humans are made, that makes it important to remember. Maybe the formal parades and two minutes’ silence became a way of making sense of the slaughter in the First World War battles where a million casualties might buy a couple of miles of advance across the mud. There had to be a significance to the losses - for every family in the country had someone who served in the forces; most had someone who came home marked by the experience - and very many did not come home at all.
Should we as Christians remember in the same way as the world around us? After all, God’s people were reminded throughout scripture to remember the Lord and what He has done. Jesus said “Remember Me” when instructing and demonstrating how a simple meal can be transformed into an encounter with the Living God together as a people.
God is the only person who can truly forget. I might forget to buy all the shopping on a list or, tragically, a dementia sufferer might forget their closest relatives. But only God can can choose to forget. In his infinite power, He determines to forget our sins when we return to Him (Isa 43:25 and Heb 8:12).
Remembering matters to make sense of the pain and the loss that we all suffer at some point in life.
Remembering can sometimes reinforce anger and bitterness. The 12th July parades in Northern Ireland keep alive the memory of the victory of a Protestant English army over the Catholic Irish over three centuries ago. In my lifetime I have seen on the news terrible violence between ordinary people stirred up by the possibility of such a parade taking place in a particular street.
Should we as Christians remember in the same way as the world around us?
No. Jesus commands us to forgive - and if we do not forgive we forfeit our own forgiveness. But how can we forgive when terrible things have been done, terrible atrocities have been committed? Only by doing what countless martyrs and victims of violence have done over the last two thousand years, by asking God’s help to forgive and by leaving in the hands of the Judge what the consequences should be. As Abraham said “Surely the Judge of all the earth will do right!”
That is not a response we can impose on those who do not know God’s forgiveness and who can only remember with pain, rather than with the comfort of God’s presence. For many of our neighbours and friends, a Remembrance Day parade is the only way of making sense of war and the atrocities it involves.
Let’s pray that many of our neighbours and friends will experience the life-transforming forgiveness of God and so be able to forgive, and even love, enemies.
Remembering matters - let’s also pray we can remember and see with God’s perspective. He is the only one who can judge.