I have fond memories of my mother’s best friend “aunty” Eileen. She died in 1979 leaving no family. Her picture comes into my mind with regularity. I can picture her talking, laughing and the way she made me a particularly delectable (and large) cherry sponge cake every term I went back to school. It was, I think, the French writer Guy de Maupassant who wrote a short story on the theme that a person, on one meaningful level, does not die until the last person who knew them dies. There is still a conscious awareness of them and, hopefully, of the love they have given and the love they have received. Remembering makes a person or an occasion real: just look back on photos of a holiday and the holiday floods back into the mind.
Remembrance is a traditional theme for November. The church remembers All Saints Day on 1st November – not a particular person, but the billions of people, names mostly now unknown, who in their lives trusted in God’s love for them, and tried to show a little of that in how they lived.
Then on 5th November we have a service In Loving Memory. This is much more personal. Anyone who wants to can ask for a name to be read out and a candle lit for those whom they remember with love and thanks, but also a sense of loss. It is always a moving service – and I hope a gentle one.
And then there is Remembrance Day itself – which falls this year on November 12th – the Sunday when, as a nation, we commemorate the fallen. That is both national and for many intensely personal. We remember millions, but each one an individual. I try in our service to focus on one who died – this year it will be a soldier or sailor who used to live in Madehurst – millions can seem just a statistic, but one death is a tragedy – and so, concentrating on the one can, I think, sometimes bring home the reality of the Remembrance: the grief, the cost, the doing of duty (some reluctantly and some willingly), and so often the bravery. And the remembering can take us from the past to the present and future: to care for those afflicted by war and to work for peace with justice.
The church has regular “remembering” services. They are called Holy Communion. They have been the central thread of worship and the continuation of the Christian faith for two millennia. And they too make things real, which is my understanding of what we mean by that phrase “Body and Blood of Christ”. We remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples where he enigmatically said he was giving himself in love for others and that we are to remember this in the simple act of eating and drinking. And the next day he died on the cross and three days later, the most enigmatic part of all, the disciples realised that was not the end of the story.
And so, my taking the bread and wine and remembering and picturing that Last Supper, somehow makes real for me his self-giving, his love and the hope that love is stronger than all things. All these acts of remembrance – the personal, the national, the church and Last Supper take place this month and everyone is welcome.