November is in many ways the season of “Remembrance”. We start with remembering and celebrating the holy ones on “All Saints’ Day” and many churches will invite those bereaved in the past twelve months to an “All Souls’ Service” to remember and give thanks for the faithful loved ones. We gather around bonfires to “remember, remember the fifth of November” though in truth the significance of that has long since faded from the memory.
However, this year there is a great significance for Remembrance Sunday it being on the 11th of the 11th and 100 years since the ending of the First World War. Four years ago, the start of the Great War was the focus, and who cannot remember the stunning Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies in the Tower of London? Each one of the 888,246 poppies representing a British military fatality during the war. The scale of loss just hits home, even if you take one battle at a time. The Somme Valley is a beautiful region, but it has carved its place in modern history by the statistics of a slaughter that will forever be associated with it. There were 57,470 British casualties on the first day of the battle alone. 19,240 of these men died. Many battalions were composed of men recruited from the same town or village. It bound them together, it was good for morale, but it also devastated local populations. Of the 720 “Accrington Pals” who went into battle on the 1St July 1916, 564 became casualties.
Over these past for years, in many communities there has been interest not just in the statistics and the story of the many but also of the tale behind the statistics, in the story of the individuals who are named on our memorials in Churches, Chapels, Working Men’s Clubs. They have ceased to be just names on a Cenotaph. People, who have no family connection that might give them an obvious reason to do so, have researched the details of these individual men’s lives and family circumstances, their service records, press reports and details of their fatal injuries and information about where they are buried if known. Some have visited their final resting places.
This is not out of morbid curiosity, but because of a growing realisation of the connection that binds together our present community with the sacrifice of life by those who formed this community in the past. In Luddenden Foot, after each Remembrance Sunday Service I have read with interest the stories displayed in the Civic Centre, of local men remembered on the Memorial in the park. In Luddenden, there have been special commemorations at 12 noon at the Memorial Cross on the 100th anniversary of the death of those men from Luddenden and Midgley at which we hear their personal stories and toll the church bell once for each year of their life.
At the heart of every communion service in which the community of faith gathers around a Holy Table, there is an act of remembrance called ‘anamnesis’. If ‘amnesia’ is forgetfulness, then ‘an-amnesis’ might be translated as ‘not-forgetfulness’. This is where we recall the Passover and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us through his death on the Cross. In the act of remembering we too realise the connection now in the present that we have with that sacrifice made in the past. The sharing of the bread and the wine in holy communion reminds us that through Jesus we have hope for the future, as well as hope for the present: hope for peace, new life and transformation through the power of a love that sustains through the darkest times and even death itself.
Death in war is sacrifice. The huge wars of the last century and many conflicts since have been fought by people who died or were damaged for the benefit of others. This includes those of other nations and races. This was brought home to me recently on a visit to Berlin Cathedral as I stood and read the many names on a memorial to their dead of the Great War. In sacrifice, lives are connected. Whilst sacrifice of life remains the ultimate act by one person for another, living in sympathy and kindness with others is a remembrance that can mark the heartbreak of war with the possibility of peace. Peace is precious, it has been bought with a price. We must never forget.
“The huge wars of the last century and many conflicts since have been fought by people who died or were damaged for the benefit of others