Ypres, Gallipoli, the Somme, Mons and Verdun. The Western Desert, El Alamein, the Normandy beaches. Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Burma Road. The Pacific, Korea, the Falkland Islands, East Timor, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Iraq.
Over these days, quiet remembrance and wreath laying ceremonies at war memorials throughout New Zealand and around the world are taking place. The eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the date when hostilities ceased on the Western Front in the war to end all wars is also remembered.
The old remember what the young will never see and a noble written remembrance is shared by every age,
‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and no torment will ever touch them...they shall shine, and run like sparks through the stubble.’
It is time to remember the love that was lost, the wisdom wasted, the courage and fear, the commitment and doubt, the resolve and vulnerability, the minds and bodies pained by memories, the families bereft, those who will die in conflicts around the world today, the makers of peace, the enemies who have become friends. We remember also the One who asks us to remember them.
Such remembrance is gathered to our hearts neither to glorify the indescribable carnage of war, collude with political justifications for warfare, nor gloss over the brutalising and crushing of the human spirit. We do not gather the dead and dying, the grief and sorrow, the memories, the stories, the tragedies, the comradeship in life and death, to dis-member them.
Rather, we re-member them. This hallowing of memory is restorative. It moves us, not only to give thanks for the gifts of life and freedom which so many of us take for granted. It encourages us to bring to birth in our hearts and lives, goodness, justice and peace out of bloody holocausts. It is to see, growing and flourishing, all that is good and beautiful, precious and shining.
The freely-voiced opinions of those in our churches and in our nations who believe that we should, at this time, be engaging in conversations and debates about the meaning and purpose of Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, Veterans Day and Anzac Day are to be respected. Yet doesn’t the gracefulness of God enable a mutual respect and prayerful integrity? Perhaps these important conversations are for another time.
We pray for peace in the life of the world and in our own hearts.
©Hilary Oxford Smith
Image: Poppies, Valery Busyjin