Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: “Remember, Remember”

Trinity 21
3 November 2019
10.30 Eucharist

Revd Nicholas Mercer

I very much enjoyed the Estate Bonfire last night

I have always loved the spectacle of fire and fireworks since I was a child and am reminded of the old nursery rhyme which goes:

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder treason and plot

We see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

The nursery rhyme calls on us to remember this particular day and the “gunpowder treason”

Indeed, the Anglican Church was required to have an annual service of Thanksgiving on the 5th November each year, following the Thanksgiving Act 1605

For a while we were not allowed to forget “gunpowder treason”

But this was abolished in 1859 and, it fair to say that, the original meaning has largely disappeared

No serious minded citizen today thinks of a Catholic plot anymore when they attend a bonfire party

Similarly with Halloween

As the title suggests, it is about All Hallows which was the liturgical season which covered the feasts of All Saints and All souls

Some suggest that it has pagan roots in ancient Celtic festivals

But whatever its origins, it is now overshadowed by consumerism

Witches and wizards,

Trick and treating,

Pumpkins and pointy hats

The origin of remembering the Faithful Departed has become lost in a commercial world

The original meaning has largely disappeared and, rather like November 5th

We barely remember the origins at all,

It is just another excuse for some pleasant fun and feasting

Even I bought a bag of treats to save me from being tricked!

However, not  only has memory faded away in relation to Bonfire Night and Halloween, but even specific acts of remembrance risk are at risk of being devalued

The religious writer Giles Fraser, recently said this about acts of silent remembrance that are being used in Schools today

“The sort of silence that is often being used in school assemblies is a lazy silence of not having anything to say. Too often, perhaps, silence is being rolled out as some good-for-all-occasions spiritual Esperanto, as something that has all the supposed gravitas of prayer but without any of the troubling religious content”.

I do have some sympathy with these sentiments, particularly as we increasingly strip Religious Education out of schools

But in the Church we are currently in a season of Remembrance

All Saints, All Souls and Remembrance Sunday mark the end of Ordinary Time as you can see from the frontals

We are right in the middle of the season of Remembrance and it is worth asking ourselves, what are we doing when were are remembering in a Christian setting?

Remembering plays an important part in the Christian faith

The last words Jesus hears in his earthly life are when he is on the cross

The penitent thief says

“Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom”

Similarly, in what is arguably the most important event of Jesus’s life

In the celebration of the Last Supper, Jesus says

“Do this in remembrance of me”

Both the thief and Jesus ask to be remembered

With regard to the penitent thief, these words are from a man who has been utterly broken

He has committed an act of theft and the penalty is death

His life is at an end yet he still has the decency to admit that he has deserves his punishment whereas Jesus has done nothing wrong

However, his last words to Jesus are not just a simple reminder not to be forgotten

A request for Jesus to put his name on a post-it sticker

It is a request to be with Jesus in paradise

And Jesus reassures him by saying

“Truly I tell you, you will be in paradise tonight”

This incident, gives us a clue as to how, in my view, Christians are meant to approach Remembrance

To re-member something stands in contrast to the word dis-member

When we dis-member something, we pull it apart

Similarly, when we re-member something we put it back together

But Remembering is not just about making sure we don’t forget

It is about bringing the past, present and future together

As can be seen in the case of the thief, he asks not just to be remembered but to be redeemed

To be made whole once again – in paradise – in the future

And he is – which is a great comfort to us all

In the second instance, Jesus asks us all at the Last Supper to

“Do this in remembrance of me”

Was this simply a request to remember him going forward or something more?

To an extent, this depends on your Eucharistic theology, but I would argue that it is something far more profound.

First of all, we do remember the events of the Last Supper every time we celebrate Holy Communion

  • How Jesus was betrayed
  • How he took bread, broke it
  • The words he used
  • How he took the cup and blessed it

We bring the past into the present

However, this event is not just about telling a story of times gone-by

It is about asking/at the same time/ to be re-made, re-newed and re-deemed

As we say in the prayer of humble access

We ask that

our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body”

“Our souls washed through his most precious blood

And through this act of re-newal, brought about through re-membrance we

“show forth in our lives, the fruits of thy redemption”

Christianity therefore adds a far greater significance to acts of remembrance

It is not a “good-for all-spiritual Esperanto”

It is something much more profound at the same time

We do, of course, remember the past, bringing those memories into the present

But at the same time, we recognise the failures of the past and ask, going forward, that we are re-newed and re-made

Re-newed, so that mankind adheres, in the future, to Kingdom values

Re-made so that we can seek to transform the world at the same time

There is no better example than Remembrance Sunday, where, having Re-membered those who have died in war, we seek a world where we

“Beat our swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks and where nation shall not lift up sword against nation”

We not only remember but we redeem and remake at the same time

But there is one further dimension to Remembrance which we should not forget

The Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (ARCIC) said this about All Souls Day which we celebrate today

“The believer’s pilgrimage of faith is lived out with the mutual support of all the people of God. In Christ the faithful, both living and departed, are bound together in prayer”

This beautifully articulates the final Christian dimension of Remembrance which can be so easily lost

As a Christian community, we are not just a communion of the living but also a communion of the departed.

We pray together,

Both living and departed- saints, souls and soldiers

We celebrate Holy Communion together, both living and departed

And we will all, one day, be in God’s Kingdom together, re-membered and redeemed

As the nursery rhyme says, “Remember, Remember”