by the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, Chair of One Body One Faith and Member of General Synod
Shortly after the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union I had the privilege of attending a conference in Brussels. It was a gathering of clergy working in Cathedrals and focused a lot on the European Union and the church’s work with it.
We heard from a number of speakers who were connected with the European Parliament, but the highlight was a day spent in the Parliament buildings themselves. What struck us all very powerfully was the fact that everything we saw, heard and experienced that day had nothing to do with economics or farming and fishing quotas. It had nothing to do with European regulations or the movement of people. It was clearly, loudly and obviously about peace.
The European Union traces its origins to the 1950s with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War. From 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community began to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. And within the European Union that peace was achieved, and this success was clearly celebrated and seen as important and significant in Brussels.
As the UK continues in the uncertainty around Brexit, as we fast approach what will be a significant General Election, preceded I suspect by what will be a nasty, unpleasant and anything but peaceful campaign by all involved, I wonder where that vision of peace has gone? This seems an even more important question to ask as we approach the 11th November. A day each year when we fall silent and remember. A day when we wear poppies and lay wreaths and remember.
My earliest memory of Remembrance is as a child being vaguely aware that we were remembering people who had fought in wars which seemed an impossibly long time ago to me.
I remember standing as still and as silent as I possibly could for what seemed like an eternity but in reality, of course was only two minutes.
I remember growing older and understanding a little more of the seriousness and importance of what I was doing. Trying to keep my mind focused on what I was remembering whilst my brain seemed to be firing off in all directions, distracting me from the purpose of standing still and silent.
A simple act of respectful silence, full of meaning and importance and yet it is clear to me that this remembering is not a passive activity but something very dynamic, very active.
Remembering is an act of respect – I can only begin to imagine what those who have fought in active service saw and experienced. I can only begin to imagine what a soldier in the First World War or the Second World War saw and experienced. Or a soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq or any number of wars that have occurred and still occur around the world today. I cannot even begin to know what it is like to return from fighting for your country with missing limbs, or no sight or severe mental health issues. I don’t know what it is like for the person you love most in the world to never return home because they paid the ultimate price in defending their friends and family, their country. Remembering is actively respecting their commitment, doing something to acknowledge their skill and expertise and their willingness to do a job that very many of us would balk at.
Remembering is an act of thanksgiving – A need to show our gratitude for all that these people have done and that our armed forces still do for us. This act brings together a whole nation to say ‘thank you’. Not in some trite, tokenistic nod but in real and heartfelt thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to those who died, those who have been injured and those who have lost loved worlds around the world and throughout time.
Remembering is an act of defiance – an act which says we will not give in to the state of the world around us but that we will seek justice and peace. We will challenge evil in all its forms wherever it is found. We won’t stand by while other peoples and nations are oppressed but will act.
Remembering is an act of hope – hope that the sacrifices made were not in vain. Hope that the world is in fact a better place than it was and it will be better yet one day. For the Christian this act of hope is not some vague philosophical airy-fairy thing but concrete and optimistic.
The prophet Isaiah writes – For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
We are clearly not in that place yet but the Christian hope is that God’s Kingdom is among us and wherever peace and justice is found that Kingdom is established. And those who bring about that peace and justice bring about God’s Kingdom.
For the Christian Church this hope is based on a God who doesn’t abandon us to our own devices despite how the world looks sometimes but enters our world, supremely in the person of Jesus Christ but in all times and in all places.
Jesus is always in the business of re:membering – bringing together those members of the human race who have become separated from one another because of political or geographical or religious disputes and differences.
Re:membering people of every tribe and nation and language and tongue.
Re:membering the people of the past and the present and the future.
The world remains divided. The nation is divided. The Church is divided.
And yet Jesus is in the business of re:membering. A bringing together of divided members. That doesn’t mean that disagreements don’t still exist or that we all have to live as a harmonious blob of identical people with identical views and no personality but it does mean that we come together and listen, that we seek to understand and that we choose to want the very best for others whether they are like us or different.
This is what is means to love your neighbour. Not some fluffy warm feeling but an active choice to want the very best for the other person.
Re:membering something we choose to do.
Seeking justice and peace is something we choose to do.
Loving is something we choose to do.
Will it be our choice?