Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.John McRae, 1915 (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields)
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The sight of delicate, vibrant poppies growing on the shattered ground in the fields around Flanders, Belgium caught the attention of a Canadian soldier by the name of John McCrae. He noticed how they had sprung up in the disturbed ground of the burials around the artillery position he was in. It was during the warm days of early May, 1915 when he found himself with his artillery brigade near to the Ypres-Yser Canal. He is believed to have composed a poem following the death of a friend at the time. The first lines of the poem have become some of the most famous lines written about the Great War – the First World War – the War to End All Wars.
We call this day Veterans Day. In Canada and Australia, Scotland and England, and in the rest of Europe, it is known by a what is a much more provocative name. There it is called Remembrance Day, and it is often honored through the distribution of poppies. Made famous by McCrae, the poppy would come to symbolize the Flander’s fields soaked with blood. And, it would become, as well, a symbol of our remembering, similar to Veteran’s Day Parades, Veteran’s Parks, and Veteran’s Memorials in those parks are a symbol of our remembering. Oh, lest we forget!!!
So, I want to ask of us a question: What will we do with our remembering? Yesterday, there were acts of remembrance and today there will be more acts of remembrance. What will happen on Monday, and what will happen on the next day and the next day? Will we put our remembering away until next year, when we will get it out again and brush it off.
For some of us here that isn’t what will happen because for some of us the remembering is more personal, because with it comes mourning. It might be mourning for a colleague, a friend, a partner, a parent, or a child. That kind of mourning isn’t something you can switch on and off to be in line with the calendar. But for many of us, we are at more of a distance, sharing in solidarity in that remembering; and, while it is not as personal for us, it still matters.
Indeed, how we remember, and what we do with our remembering, matters.
We will remember today the 6 million allied soldiers killed in the First World War, and we will perhaps remember the 6 million dead among the central powers also. We will remember the 25 million soldiers killed in the Second World War. We will remember the soldiers killed in conflicts since: in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. We name conflicts after the country they happen in and I think in our minds we think of war as something that happens between countries far off. It is us and them: Allied powers verses Central powers, Allied powers verses Axis powers, the United States verses Japan, or Great Britain verses Argentina. The truth is, I think we are given a painful reminder far too often that war isn’t so simple anymore. Perhaps it never really was.
Anyway, we will remember all those who had or have taken their place in uniform.
But right remembering is about more than setting aside a day in a year to remind ourselves of the facts. Remembering rightly is about how we live in the light of those facts. Especially today as a community, as a nation.
In the Old Testament, the people of God were forever being called by God to remember who they were and where they had come from. It was usually at times in their life when things were going wrong when they were reminded to remember. But the call to remember wasn’t about just reminding themselves how they had got into their current mess; but, rather, it was a call to a living hope that the future would be different.
We heard it in that first reading, which was written against a background of war and occupation, words of promise and hope for a different future. God’s promise for a different future is for all nations, not just one. And so God asks his people to remember. And right remembering, honourable remembering, requires both honesty and vision from us.
It requires honesty about our past. Today we take an honest inventory of the facts of war and conflict, past and present. In honesty, we reflect and remember with sorrow, pride, gratitude, and wonder, and also with repentance, grief, and guilt. As part of their news site, The Guardian, has a page called “Datablog,” a place where they put analysis of all sorts of different reports as they come out with lots of facts and figures about war and war-casualties and war-dead. The site bears the strapline, “Facts are sacred.” Something that is sacred is to be held with respect and honor before God. That is what we do today when we honestly remember, because behind each fact is a person and behind them there is family, colleagues, friends, a community, and a nation that is different because of that one.
With the honest remembrance, God would also call us to have a vision for our future. In other words, don’t get stuck with the facts, however sacred, in a way that causes you to forget you have a future. Right and honorable remembering demands that we must have a vision to accompany it. On Friday evening, I attended a different sort of remembrance. Invited by my dear friend, Kat, I went to the Mourner’s Kaddish, on the 80th anniversary of Kristalnacht. Kristalnacht was the night in 1938 ended five years of “subtle” discrimination against German Jews, turning instead to outright slaughter. Ninety-one confirmed dead as the German nationalists murdered at least 91 Jews – but surely it was far more than that. Kristalnacht was the night when the holocaust began, ending only after the death of 6 million Jews. Seventy-five plus people prayed the Kadesh, lighting candles, surrounding the Water Dome at Florida Southern College.
“Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name in the world which God created, according to plan. May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say: Amen.”(https://reformjudaism.org/practice/prayers-blessings/mourners-kaddish)
We remembered that night and I still remember because we want a different vision for the future.
God’s ultimate promise for us is that God will dwell with us, there will be no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. We will get out of our cycles of violence and war because all of that has been gathering up in Christ who has shown us a different way. That future, though, starts now, with us. There is no going back, only moving forward. Taking our remembering and our honoring with us, and living in the light of it, not putting it aside.
If we don’t remember rightly, if we don’t remember in holiness and righteousness, then we might as well be singing another song. Here, the last stanza of “No Man’s Land” by Eric Bogle:
Ah, young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why,Eric Bogle, 1976 (https://lyricstranslate.com/en/eric-bogle-no-mans-land-lyrics.html)
Did all those who lay here really know why they died?
And did they believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end war?
For the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain,
The killing and dying were all done in vain,
For, young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again and again and again and again.
Written in 1976 after visiting the grave of a young man who died in the same Flander’s field that McCrae had written about, Bogle reflects on the absurdity of it all – the absurdity of the violence, the absurdity of our arrogance and power, and the absurdity of not having a lasting vision for the future.
Let this Veteran’s Day be a day of remembrance; but, may it be a remembrance that leads to a vision of God calls us for a new creation.