I’ll begin this time of reflection with a poem by an unknown author, simply entitled, “Remembering”:
We all love to be remembered.
But if we want to be remembered,
we have a duty also to remember.
Memory is a powerful thing.
Wrongly used it brings death.
Rightly used it brings life,
and is a form of immortality.
It keeps the past alive.
Those we remember never die;
they continue to walk and talk to us.
For all those we hold dear in our memories,
and all those who remain nameless except in God’s heart,
we pray they rest in the everlasting arms
of God’s grace and peace.
When we think of the word remember we often mistakenly think that it is simply about recalling the past. In our faith tradition remembering is about weaving together the wisdom of the past – our own experiences and the wisdom of others – with a vision of the future that includes the values and teachings of Jesus. This act of remembering is active, not passive. It is a remembering that does not hold our community of faith captive to the past but rather we are grateful recipients of shared wisdom and experience. When we remember, in this way, we connect with the wisdom of the past and move forward into the future with lessons and examples that influence our decisions and actions.
And so today, as we gather as a community of faith, we remember the lessons of the past and we recall with gratitude those throughout the ages who have stood up for the rights and freedoms of others and those who have dedicated their lives in the pursuit of justice.
As a person born in Canada during the decade following the end of World War 2, I know that I have been blessed to live in a time and place where freedom and liberty are commonplace. I also know from conversations with older family members and friends that the freedoms I enjoy were not always guaranteed and were secured through suffering, sacrifice, and a great loss of human life.
This week as I’ve been thinking about Remembrance Day, I realized this past July 28th (2014) marked 100 years since the beginning of World War 1. The 1st World War was known as “the war to end all wars” – something we are painfully aware was not the case. So dreadful was the carnage, where more than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died, that the hopes and prayers of the masses was that this devastating violence would never again be repeated. And so on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we remember the signing of the peace treaty in 1918 that ended WW1. We give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy and we mourn the loss of life through violent means during war and by those defending our freedoms in times of relative peace.
In these past few weeks, our nation has been shocked and appalled by the violence that claimed the lives of two members of Canada’s armed forces who were carrying out homeland duties in a non-combatant capacity. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, while in uniform, was fatally run over in a parking lot on October 20th. Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed while serving in the ceremonial guarding of the National War Memorial in Ottawa on October 22nd.
October 22nd I was away visiting my mother. I heard snippets of news on CBC radio that morning and then in the afternoon at the Vancouver Airport while I waited for my flight to Cranbrook. At the airport,
I noticed a young man in army fatigues who was sitting alone, eyes glued to the silent TV screens. He was watching endlessly looping images of the frenzy in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill and of images of Cpl. Cirillo on the ground as people frantically tried to save his life. My heart went out to this young man in uniform who stood out so noticeably in a sea of civilian clothing. No one approached him or intruded on the solemnity of his silent vigil. It was only then, in the context of the violence of that day, that I fully realized how visible and vulnerable are the men and women who serve in any of the armed forces, RCMP and other local police forces.
These recent events have affected how our local Remembrance Day observances will be carried out this year. I noted in the Daily Bulletin that local Cadets are not allowed to sell poppies in uniform in the Platzl or at hockey games but can do so in specific places under the strict supervision of an officer. Even more sobering is that Cadets will be allowed to wear their uniforms during the Service at the Cenotaph but must change into regular clothing immediately following the service.
Comments from the United Church of Canada Moderator, Gary Paterson, in a written statement on October 28, 2014, shares his sadness and his hope for Canadians in these difficult days,
“How does one make sense of the deaths of two members of Canada’s Armed Forces in acts of violence that defy comprehension? …[In this time we need the] reminder that there is goodness in this world – we just need to look a little harder when we are overwhelmed with the fear that evil is winning. It is not. The bystanders who stepped in to try to save the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the Sergeant-at-Arms, security guards, and police officers who put their lives in danger to protect others are proof of that fact. It is at times like these when we are challenged by the worst of human behaviour that we must make an extra effort to appreciate the hope that can be found in witnessing the best of human behaviour.
…I have also found myself thinking about the young men who did the killing – what does it mean to hold them in prayer? Is it prayer that searches for understanding? For forgiveness? For compassion? And what about their families – how do we care for them? I was deeply moved to read how the family of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was fatally run over last week in Montreal, reached out to the family of the man who killed their son, saying in a statement, ‘Our thoughts…go to the Couture-Rouleau family, who are living through difficult moments.’ ”
During worship last week, we heard Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”. (Matthew 5:9). Patrice Vincent’s family showed compassion in the face of devastating loss and the acknowledgment that with violence everyone suffers. With this fresh in my mind I was interested to read in the November edition of The United Church Observer that three years after the end of World War 1 (1921), Knox United Church in Calgary unveiled a stained glass window that was installed four years later entitled, “The Suffering of Humanity”. It was common in those early post-war years for churches to honour fallen soldiers with a stained glass window paying tribute to their sacrifice. This window is different in that it depicts fallen soldiers from both sides of the conflict. Current minister, Linda Hunter, says of the window, “only three years [after the war ended in 1918], they were able to say that everyone suffers in war. This window is part of a living museum that reflects values we hold today.” (The United Church Observer, November 2014, pg.40)
In Kimberley United Church the stained glass windows in our sanctuary glow with the natural light of God’s creation. The memorial windows in the church’s entryway are reminders of the hope of our faith tradition. For me, the open hands and butterfly represent letting go and being open to transformation and new life. There is a sense of joy that I feel when I look at the symbolism in this window. The window beside it with the rainbow flowing from the cross and the dove that rises above are important symbols of abundant hope and God’s spirit known to us in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
It is this assurance of Christ’s constant presence that we remember as we hear again the words Jesus shared with his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”
Thanks be to God for these words of comfort and assurance in difficult times.