A time to re­mem­ber

The Church of England - - LEADER & COMMENT -

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

james.cat­ford@bible­so­ci­ety.org.uk

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