Autumn has traditionally been a time when Christians explore the theme of remembering and with it, ask some of the big questions about life and death. All Souls commemorates the lives of family and friends and Remembrance Sunday services bring to mind both known and unknown people who suffered or died in war. Both are an opportunity for all ages to think about love and loss and to remember in special ways.
Remembrance Sunday is a contentious day as it can engender strong emotions. My thought as to what we hope to achieve in remembering on that day is echoed in the words ‘It’s not the glory of war we remember, it’s the horror lest we forget’. It’s hard to forget the effects of conflict including appalling atrocities towards people, because they continue to dominate our news on a daily basis. What would help is to be able to transform what we experience into something more positive. Easier said than done you might think.
In her book A Mother’s Celebration, Neena Velma wrote:
When Existence opens up to
And rises above and beyond
The path of Transcendence opens
Love goes beyond Death
The body disappears
The person lives
And in this Love
Remembrance is born.
A couple of years ago I visited a beautiful tranquil place which aids remembering, the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Predominantly intended as a place of tribute to those who served their country or died in conflict, it is now the home to over 300 memorials which tell a range of extraordinary stories through thought provoking symbolism. At its heart is the Armed Forces Memorial etched with over 16,000 names of people who have died. Bronze sculptures bear silent witness to the cost of war – a Serviceman raised aloft on a stretcher by comrades, the body of a warrior being prepared for burial, a mother clasped by a child and an older couple clutching each other in anguish, a figure before double doors pointing to a world beyond. The door may be one way but it is aligned in such a way that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the sun’s rays stream through it, illuminating the wreath in the centre of the Memorial making another symbolic connection between the living and the dead.
As I wandered around the 150 acre site, I saw a memorial to an organisation I had not heard about before, Toc H. Talbot House was established in 1915 and run as a rest house at Poperinge in Belgium by army chaplain, Rev ‘Tubby’ Clayton with the aim of providing material and spiritual comfort for troops away from the rigours of the front line. The comradeship engendered at Toc H was so strong that it continued after the war ended. Initially comprised of people who had experienced life at Toc H, it continued to grow organically and became a unique example of practical Christianity serving the needs of local communities worldwide.
The emblem of Toc H is a replica of lamps used to provide light for early Christians taking refuge in the catacombs in Rome. The addition of the Cross of Lorraine represents its origins on the Ypres Salient. It symbolises the ongoing commitment of Toc H to spread the light of compassion and reconciliation wherever and whenever it is required.
Toc H adopted and follow 4 basic principles:
• to think fairly, and to overcome prejudice and discrimination;
• to build bravely to establish peace and harmony in place of strife and discord;
• to love widely, in service and fellowship with others, wherever need exists;
• to witness humbly to the practical application of the Christian way of life.
If all this sounds familiar as a concept, I’m not surprised. If we think about St Mark’s and our Christian heritage, many of us have very similar principles. Every time we take communion the gospel is proclaimed, and we believe and embrace these principles again – in other words, we remember. Jesus gathered his disciples together at the Last Supper and commanded them to ‘Do this in Remembrance of me’. As we gather together, we make present the past, so that it can be effective in the present.
As we are sent out into the world, ‘May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.’ (On a plaque at the 9/11 Memorial)