A time to remember
Congregations across the country are likely to swell this Sunday as the faithful, along with the not so faithful, gather to remember the fallen and support the living on Remembrance Sunday.
Underrated by those who don’t like to talk about war, the enduring place of remembrance in our national life is surprising in our day. To pause, reflect and remember stirs emotions deep within us that we would do well to recognise and address.
For those who are grieving the loss of someone they love, I have been greatly helped by the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters from Prison. He acknowledges that “nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through.”
He continues: “That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us.”
What I’ve found so valuable is his insight that “it is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”
Rather than minimise the void, these wise words from Bonhoeffer recognise grief for what it is. Strangely, they are comforting.
For those who do not carry with them the absence of an immediate relative, the stirrings we find within us can still be powerful. ‘For King and Country’ may seem a quaint slogan today, but nationalism is still not far below the surface of old and young in our world.
The Scottish referendum, the divided society of Northern Ireland, the recent call for ‘English votes for English laws’, and a possible Brexit from the EU, all speak to the abiding appeal of national identity.
Standing at the village war memorial, or watching the Cenotaph in Whitehall on TV, there’s little doubt that, even in our multicultural world, we are still largely defined by our nationhood. In those two minutes of silence, we discover that our deepest connections are largely racial, geographical and historical.
Yet for Christians we hold another citizenship; we worship another king, and we live in another kingdom. How we negotiate between these two realms is the stuff of our discipleship to Jesus of Nazareth, himself subjected to the king and sovereign power of his day.
The best definition I know of a kingdom is the place where what the ruler wants done is done. As Dallas Willard explained, we each have a personal kingdom that is “the range of our effective will”. If I put my hand in your pocket and take out your change, you will soon tell me to get out of your kingdom.
The title of Charles Colson’s profound book on the subject put it well in saying that our world is a world of Kingdoms in Conflict. No wonder we are gathering on Sunday to remember.
There’s a lot of conflict and a lot of remembering to be done since John McCrae wrote his famous poem Flanders Field 100 years ago this year. “We are the Dead,” he wrote. “Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved. And now we lie In Flanders fields.” Lest we forget, God has a kingdom too; the place where what he wants done, is done. And the invitation he puts to us is that we take our little kingdoms and place them into his cosmic kingdom. Doing this diligently is the journey of our lives covering personal, family, work, moral and public life.
For the person who has human skin in the game of war, through their own scars or the loss of someone close to them, Remembrance remains a personal and poignant reminder of what is most precious in life. For the rest of us it can serve as a challenge to grasp what it means for us to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
This is especially so when kingdoms continue to be in such conflict, both with each other and with God.
This weekend we pray for our world; for the peace of Jerusalem, for the warring factions in Syria and Iraq, and for the military and political advisers to the kings and other global leaders of our times.
As we do this we can look with confidence to the cross, and to the tree in Revelation, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. James Catford is Group Chief Executive of Bible Society. Follow him on Twitter or email him at