Remembering: A Sermon by The Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould

The Czech author Milan Kundera, who has been living in exile in France since 1975, wrote

“I remember therefore I am”.  The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory.

Remembering is a central theme in Judaism. In the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament) there are over 250 references to memory and remembering. These relate to the five major events in the story of the journey of God’s people to the Promised Land.

  1. The Abrahamic calling (Gen. 11:27-12.9)
  2. The slavery in Egypt (Exodus)
  3. Wandering in the desert (Ex. Lev. Num, Deut.)
  4. Giving the Law (Ex. 21-24;31-35)
  5. The Gift of the Promised Land (Gen. 15:15-21 et al.)

Throughout the scriptures memories are evoked at various times, and are used to encourage, exhort and challenge the nation and its leaders to keep true to God and to honour the covenant God had made with them.

Just as the hard and long journey through the desert led to the people turning from their part in God’s covenant leaving Moses to plead for mercy so that the covenant could be restored, so later the prophets were called upon to challenge the affluent backsliding leaders of the nation to remember how God had delivered them from their enemies and given them the Law, so that they could live in security in the Land (Isa. 17:10).

The remembering of the story of the Chosen People was, and still is, kept alive through a combination of festivals and memorials, re-enacting and re-presenting the communal story of their deliverance, their wanderings in the wilderness, their conquest and settlement in the Promised Land, and the covenant by which they were and are to live.

“Remember” is a key word in the book of Deuteronomy. The purpose of the book is to look back at the shared story of the birth of a nation, not just as factual history, but to perceive the meaning and wholeness of the story from God’s perspective. In re-membering the story from God’s perspective, we, as they of old, find points of contact with our own story, and so can learn the best lessons from it.

Remembering is a vital part of the Old Testament, but it is no less significant in the New Testament

At the heart of the New Testament writings is the memory of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The thanksgiving prayer begins with a recital of God’s saving acts. We begin with a brief version of God’s work of salvation as recorded in the Old testament and then with the coming of Christ. This culminates in our re-membering of the Last Supper, at which Jesus took bread, blessed it and gave it to his disciples with the words “ This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me”. (Lk22:19)” Taking the wine, blessed it and gave it to those gathered saying “drink this ..this is my blood shed for you, drink this in remembrance of me.”

When we hear these words spoken in the Eucharist, we do not interpret “remembrance” as merely a calling to mind of a very significant event. Rather for us, it is a re-membering that has a real effect, here and now, in the present, as the action is repeated.

That is what we mean when we talk about the “real presence” and it is why we treat the sacrament with such respect. No doubt you will have notice the little white light signalling the presence of consecrated bread in the aumbry on the left hand side of the high altar here in the Cathedral.

Each Holy Week we retell and remember the painful story of the cruel and lonely end of the life of Jesus. It is without doubt spiritually the most difficult and emotionally draining week of the Christian year for those who follow it through from beginning to end. But strangely, when for the first time ever we have been prevented from gathering together to remember that tragic end to our saviour’s life, that was even harder and more desolating. This story is our story and we gain strength and insight in remembering it together. It is the hardest week but it is also the most crucial week for our faith – if you will forgive the pun.

Then comes the great day of resurrection. Again, this year our communal celebrations had to give way to something that more closely resembled that first Easter morning, as one by one throughout the day Christians remembered and awakened to the wondrous truth that God has conquered sin and death once and for all. Alleluia!

The resurrection teaches us that no matter what evil Jesus suffered at the hands of others God redeemed that pain with newness of life. We must remember that we are people of the Resurrection. We too, at times, will suffer cruelty or even kinds of torture by others. We may well respond to such events with anger, hatred, and a desire for revenge. But in time, God can give us the will and strength to shake off that destructive power that is hurting us more than the other, so that we may walk in newness of life. This is the only way to healing and opens the possibility of reconciliation. It can take a long time, but God is infinitely patient, and that gift of freedom and peace forever awaits us.

Every day Christians read from the book of stories of our faith, The Bible. I remember a lapsed member in one of my earliest parishes whom I’d been asked to visit telling me proudly that he had read the bible cover to cover. I was evidently searching for an appropriate response when he said “Well, have you?”

“No, it has never crossed my mind” I hesitantly replied, and I could see by the smirk on the man’s face that he thought that he had really out-smarted me.

I decided at that moment that the Mormons had it right going out in twos!

Not to be totally outdone, I asked him which of the gospels he liked best? I wasn’t trying to be smart, but it was a time in my life when I had a passion for John’s gospel.)

He looked at me with the same confusion that I had looked at him when he asked if I had read the bible from cover to cover.

It was obvious that he had read the entire Story Book without taking much notice of the multitude of stories which have their own particular lessons to teach, not just on one reading but on repeated readings throughout a lifetime. Where would we be without the parables of Jesus which were told to ensure that we would remember essential aspects of faith in a long term and ever evolving way. The parables are not to be remembered for their own sake, but so that the truth hidden in them may be divulged to us in new and powerful ways if we risk looking and listening anew to that which is eternal.

Our faith story reminds us continually that each of us is the beloved child of God. Earth is not our abiding city. Rather, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, so that we can live with him for ever, in what he refers to as his Father’s house, or we may prefer to call heaven or eternal life. This story is the story that enables us to delight in all that is good and wonderful in this life, as well as persevere through all the trials, sadness, grief and evil we may encounter.

From Wikipedia

“November 11 is Remembrance Day. This is one of the most sacred days in our nation’s calendar. On this day we remember that on 11 November 1918, three German government representatives accepted the Armistice terms presented to them by an allied commander, General Foch of the French Army.  The armistice became effective at 11am the same day, and as the guns fell silent on the Western Front in France and Belgium, four years of hostilities ended.

World War I began in 1914 and lasted for four years. More than 60 000 Australians were killed. As well as Australian soldiers, many nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service served on the Western Front.  These nurses worked in overcrowded hospitals for up to 16 hours a day, looking after soldiers with shocking injuries and burns.

In Australia and other allied countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United States, 11 November became known as Armistice Day – a day to remember those who died in World War I.  The day continues to be commemorated in Allied countries.

After World War II the Australian Government agreed to the United Kingdom’s proposal that Armistice Day be renamed Remembrance Day to commemorate those who were killed in both World Wars.  Today the loss of Australian lives from all wars and conflicts is commemorated on Remembrance Day.”

The purpose of remembering is not simply to re-tell the story, but rather to learn from it. From the perspective of time and distance we can move from hatred of the enemy to lamenting the sources of human evil and frailty that lead people to the tyranny of war.

When our hearts turn from hatred to lament, we open our souls, not just as individuals but as a nation, to the spirit of healing and new life.

We are enlivened by remembering with gratitude the courage, commitment, and self-sacrifice of all those who have died in service of our country and those who continue to serve us today.

We pray that God will help us honour them through our commitment and courage to be instruments of God’s peace in the world in which we live today.

Lest we Forget.