November is very much a month of remembrance.
It begins with the time in the Church year when we celebrate how we are ‘surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses’ - what we affirm as the ‘communion of saints’. The feast of All Saints’ [All Hallows] is our Patronal Festival at Oystermouth and it is followed by All Souls’ Day, when we remember the lives of all the faithful departed. Celebrating our communion with the saints in heaven and on earth is part of the faith and life we are called to share as Christians.
Then comes ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot’. In communities across the country the night sky is lit up as people let off fireworks or attend public displays, often oblivious to what is actually being commemorated. ‘Bonfire Night’ remembers how a religiously motivated terrorist plot to blow up King James and his Protestant parliament was thwarted by security forces in 1605. One of the main perpetrators was the infamous Guy Fawkes, whose effigy is still burned on bonfires over four centuries later. As we watch the firework displays we would do well to remember how our present day security forces continue to do all that they can to protect us from the religiously motivated attacks of our day.
Then follows Remembrance Sunday, which this year falls on Armistice Day. The event has grown significantly in Mumbles over the last few years. Several hundred people regularly crowd into Church as we remember the fallen of two world wars and subsequent conflicts around the globe.
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. The conflict is thought to have claimed over nineteen million lives and wounded twenty three million. Though it was fought as the ‘War to end all wars’ it ended in the stalemate of armistice rather than in victory for either the Allies or Germany. The unfinished business between the two sides eventually led to the rise of Nazism and the unimaginable evil Hitler and his like unleashed on the world during the 1939-1945 War.
On Remembrance Sunday we think particularly of those who died in the two world wars of the last century. We remember the victims of the holocaust and the subsequent wars in Korea, Vietnam and in the Gulf. We call to mind the genocides of the last few decades, in the Balkans and Rwanda, and the conflict in the Middle East which is spilling over into other parts of the world through terrorist attacks. Mumbles Remembers, as we now call our civic service, will be an opportunity to remember those who ventured their all, past and present, to secure the freedom and peace we know today.
Remembering is an essential part of the Christian life too. As followers of Christ we celebrate how his Gospel story makes sense of our own lives. We reflect on his revolutionary teaching and his example of reconciling and sacrificial love. When we come together in fellowship for the ‘Breaking of the bread’ we celebrate his command to ‘do this in remembrance of me’.
But the Christian life is not just about looking to the past, it’s a challenge to live Christ centred lives in the here and now as we look to the future and the fulfilment of his kingdom. In the four weeks that lead up to Advent the Church now celebrates that kingdom as we come to the end of another liturgical year.
On Remembrance Sunday I often think about words spoken by Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to face what would happen to him there. Luke’s Gospel tells us that, standing on the Mount of Olives, he looked across the Kidron valley at one of the most impressive cities in the world and wept over it, saying, “O Jerusalem, would that even today you knew the way that leads to peace’.
In this month of remembrance we reflect on how Jesus showed the world the way that leads to peace - the way of the cross. When he faced the hatred and evil humankind threw at him he did not retaliate with violence but transfigured his suffering with eternal words of love and pardon. His first words from the cross, ‘Father forgive them’, offers an alternative to the downward spiral of violence and retribution – the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this month when there is much to remember we can think of how the way of the cross continues to be hope for our world.
With every blessing,