St Denys' and St Mark's Joint Benefice

  • The Rectory
  • Mayfield Road
  • Rotherfield
  • East Sussex
  • TN6 3LU

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November 2018

From Adam Earle

Revd Nigel Mason invited me to write this month. In case any of you do not know me, I am a former organist and choirmaster of St Denys' Church and now a student minister in the United Reformed Church.

“Remember, remember the 5th of November, 
gunpowder, treason and plot…
(Bonfire Night Refrain)

So goes the familiar and distinctly British rhyme that folk call out to mark the anniversary of the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators to blow up parliament and kill King James by whom they had been greatly grieved.  Again the bonfires will be lit, people will parade with flaming torches and fireworks will light up the sky, delighting young and old with their colourful spectacle and scaring the living daylights out of pets and small children across the land.  

November is sometimes called the month of remembering with many occasions inviting us to take time to recall past events which continue to influence our lives today.  The majority of our festivals and celebrations, through the year, mark past events and, through words and actions, bring to mind the past in the present.    

“When you go home, tell them of us and say, 
For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
(The Kohima Epitaph) 

Here are more familiar words which we will again declare on the 11th November, Remembrance Sunday, a solemn event, observed since 1919 when the first anniversary of the end of the First World War was marked.  Now in 2018 we find ourselves about to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the end of that war – a reason to celebrate perhaps, the end of war is always cause for celebration as peace returns, but this is always followed, hot on its heels, by deep sorrow and mourning as we take stock of the loss and sacrifice – the tremendous cost of war which should never be taken lightly. 

What we will do to mark the occasion is more than just remembering.  We can all remember things from the past because we were there when they happened but much of what we call to mind at our commemorations isn’t within our living memory.  

The last veteran of the WW1 - Florence Green, a British woman who served in the allied forces, died on 4th February 2012, aged 110, the last veteran who served in combat, Claude Choules, died on 5th  May 2011, aged 110 and the last veteran who served in the trenches, Harry Patch, died on 25 July 2009, aged 111.   Only those who are currently over 100 years old could say they remember WW1 and even that is unlikely.     As the years proceed the same will be true of WW2 and the many subsequent wars which are part of the cause for our Remembrance.  If we can’t remember should we continue to mark Remembrance Day?

Yes indeed – because remembrance is different from just remembering – we aren’t bringing our past experiences to the forefront of our thinking – we are acknowledging that some things from the past are of such significance, both in shaping the present and in teaching us lessons for today, that we bring them into the present and consciously call them to mind through our words and actions here and now.  Our actions and words become a memorial, a mark in the present of the significance of the past.  

We will again lay our wreaths, wear our poppies, sing our hymns, say our prayers and parade our flags in honour of the past and lives laid down.  We will reflect on the enormous price paid to secure our freedom and we will give thanks as we remember, not to glorify war but to acknowledge what we owe to others and to pray for peace as we look forward.

He took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and gave it to them, 
saying, ‘This is my body,
which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
(The Gospel of Luke – Ch 22 – Vs 19 – NRSV)

Not just once a year, not just in November, but many thousands of times every day, across the world, folk repeat these words of Jesus, and through actions in the present we make memorial of and acknowledge the significance, for the whole of human history, of Christ’s coming, living, dying and rising again.  It is through these events that the rest of human history, including the dark and terrible parts, can make sense because God’s promises bring the hope that, despite the bad and because of the good there is a greater future beyond this life.

All other moments are, when viewed through the lens of Christ, part of a journey, a struggle which ultimately leads us back to God.  A struggle in which God himself has participated, alongside us, not standing on the side-lines and watching but living and suffering and serving his creation through it all.