I was recently privileged to lead the Act of Remembrance at Askam Town Silver Band's Festival of Remembrance. I'm especially grateful to Mark, the representative of the RBL who capably oversaw the building of the drumhead for the ceremony. Here is the sermon I delivered:
There’s an old Russian proverb you may have heard: “Remember the past, be blind in one eye. Forget the past, be blind in both eyes.”
Every year as the 11th of November draws closer; as the collection boxes appear in the local shops; as people start to wear Poppies; as the commemoration begins on TV and radio, we hear – perhaps some of us even start to pose – certain questions: Why are we doing all this?
Some of us, affiliated with branches of the armed services; organisations like the British Legion; or musicians in pipe and brass bands – attend so many Remembrance services it becomes part of our Autumn routine – we know every part of the service by heart. We can do it on autopilot.
If we’re honest, perhaps we wonder why we bother: Isn’t it all a bit morbid?
More to the point, people have genuine worries about the way we commemorate our Fallen: we risk glamorising War – We risk jingoism – patriotism turning into racism. We can start to weave false stories about our own past, as if we were always the good guys. In giving thanks for the men and women who have fought for this country, do we neglect to ask the hard questions about why they had to fight? We risk not holding ourselves accountable as a nation for the mistakes we’ve made.
Some people wonder if we shouldn’t just give up on the whole business, and get our veterans to leave their medals and colours at home. Isn’t it better to just let the past be the past, and not keep digging up old hurts and losses, year after year? Might it harm young people to learn about so much death at school?
Think of that Proverb – If we remember the past, we risk being blind in one eye – we do risk losing touch with the awful realities of war. We do risk pride in our own country becoming disdain of anyone else’s. We do risk not wanting to make people answer for the political decisions they make that end with young men and women returning to their native soil dead or wounded, mentally and physically.
But if we forget the past – if we don’t remember – then we risk being completely blind: Blind to the cost of the freedom we have and enjoy every day. Blind to lives damaged by war and terrorism. Blind to families torn apart. Blind to the struggles of those still grieving, years after their losses.
As a Christian, I know that just because something happened a long time ago, doesn’t mean it should be forgotten: Because the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again, I have hope: I know that my sins are forgiven. I can know a living relationship with God. Because I trust in Him, I have the promise of eternal life. I have assurance that one day, all war and death and pain shall cease. The Bible says that Jesus gave his life to purchase freedom for his people. His sacrifice, almost 2000 years ago, makes a fundamental difference to the way I live, and so I must not forget.
This, then, despite the risks of cultural or historical blindness, is why we must remember all those who have lost their lives in armed conflict and acts of terror, whether it was two years ago, or a hundred: If their sacrifice is to mean something, there must be a real difference to the way we live, today.
My Great-Grandfather, Charlie, fought in the First World War with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He survived the war, but he never spoke about his time as a soldier: It had cost him. If I forget him, and those like him; if I don’t commit to strive for peace with my life, whatever it might cost, then I am less of a man – blinded to the person I ought to be.
We remember them and recognise that the freedoms we enjoy, came at a steep price – such liberties are worth defending. The future that each new generation looks forward to, was dearly bought – such a future ought to be protected. We remember all those who have sacrificed their lives and wellbeing for our sake, and should ask Almighty God for the ability to live lives that demonstrate our gratitude by seeking to preserve that for which they suffered and died.