Sermon: Remembrance Sunday, 8 November 2015, St Mary’s, morning

Preacher  Revd Alan Sykes

There’s a poem by Philip Larkin that includes the lines:

Truly, though our element is time,

We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.

And it’s true that we’re not really suited to dwelling too much on the past and the future. Those perspectives can make us dizzy with anxiety.

Fretting and worrying are two of the things that we human beings do best. It has been estimated, though I can’t imagine how, that we spend about 80% of our time either fretting over what has happened in the past or worrying about what is going to happen in the future.

We’re never going to eradicate all fretting and all worry from our lives. A degree of anxiety is probably part of our human lot.

Sometimes the things we fret and worry about are important. But often they’re not. Often they’re about perceived damage to our self-image or slights to our ego, things of that kind.

We get all tensed up – tense being the operative word – about so many unimportant things.

You hear a lot these days about living in the present moment. The virtue of living in the present moment is an old Christian tradition. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a Catholic priest, wrote a book in the 18th century called The Sacrament of the Present Moment.

A sacrament happens when something in the created order reveals the reality of God to our minds and hearts. It might be bread and wine, it might be time itself.

The present moment can indeed be a sacrament, in which God reveals himself, in which time itself becomes the means of communion with God.

That said, our memory – our remembrance of the past – is one of those attributes we have that make us human. We need memory in order to give our lives context. We need that sense of rootedness. We all need to feel that we come from somewhere.

And so also, as a society, as a world, we need to remember those events that have shaped what we are today. We reflect on the past and we learn lessons from it. We learn lessons, basically, so that the future might be better. The future may not exist – it doesn’t exist by definition – but it is still real.

Living fully in the present doesn’t mean that we forget the past or neglect the future. And just as a farmer sows seed with a view to reaping a future harvest, part of our work as human beings is to sow the seeds of justice and peace in our own time, so that our children and their children will reap the harvest of God’s growing kingdom on earth.

Today we remember those who gave their lives in war.

I’d guess that those who decide to wage war think – sometimes erroneously no doubt – that they are doing something to create a better world. Or a less bad one perhaps.

But those who fight wars are rarely the ones who declare wars. They fight in our name and on our behalf. That’s why it’s good for us to honour those who have died in war and in the hope of building a better future.

We too are called to hope and work for a better future. That seems to me a healthy and generous way to honour the past. Those killed in war would have hoped for nothing less.

Our final hymn today is Jerusalem – almost a national anthem in itself. I’ve always thought that it’s a wonderful marriage of words and music. The music enhances the words – that’s what you’d expect – but in a strange way the words also enhance the music. It’s a poem focussed on England but really it’s about making a better world. And of course it uses the imagery of war:

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In England’s green & pleasant Land.

Note that use of the plural – till we have built Jerusalem – this is a fight for the future in which we all participate.

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