Sermon: A Time For ... Remembrance
Reading: John 15: 9-17; Matthew 26: 17-30; and others
Sermon Date: November 12, 2017
This study has two components:
1) the background to and reasons why we remember those who have lost their lives in conflict
2) the importance of remembrance for disciples of Jesus
Begun in 1919, on the Sunday closest to the date and time of the armistice that ended the First World War (11am on 11th November) nations of the Commonwealth are invited to pause and remember all who have given their lives in the course of freedom.
Two features of that first Remembrance Day remain central to today’s commemorations: the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the period of silence. The Cenotaph was the place around which people united and the activity that united them was the two minutes of silence. On the King’s initiative people were asked to remain silent at 11 o’clock: to cease activity, to stand with bowed heads and to remember the fallen and all whose lives were affected by war. Remarkably, millions throughout the nation did so. In the years that followed, Church of England clergy began to lead services and services of remembrance at war memorials and in churches.
Other Remembrance Day traditions developed quickly.
The idea for the tomb of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey is attributed to an Army chaplain, Revd David Railton (1884-1955). Whilst serving in France in 1916, he noticed in a back garden at Armentières, a grave with a rough cross on which were pencilled the words "An Unknown British Soldier". In August 1920, he wrote to the Dean of Westminster Abbey with his idea. The Dean recognised its value to the nation and speedily progressed Railton’s idea. In November 1920, the “Unknown Soldier” was buried in Westminster Abbey at 11am on 11th November with full military honours with King George V in attendance. By the end of the day, tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects. Over a million people visited in the first week.
On the same day, the burial of the “unknown soldier” was accompanied by the unveiling of the new permanent Cenotaph by the King. Designed by Sir Edwyn Lutyens, this marble cenotaph replaced the earlier temporary memorial, made of plaster and stone, that was one of several temporary memorials that had been erected for the Peace Day Parade on July 19 1919. The outpouring of national sentiment that accompanied this parade encouraged the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and the government, to commission a permanent memorial in Whitehall.
The poppy campaign was also inspired by an individual. In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae saw poppies growing in battle-scarred fields, which inspired him to write a now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance.
From 1921, artificial poppies were sold to support the Earl Haig fund for ex-servicemen. Former soldiers made the poppies – and so ensured their own employment – and the profits supported ex-servicemen in need. Over the years, the Royal British Legion have continued and developed the Poppy appeal.
To help to unite the nation in our collective remembrance, the inaugural Festival of Remembrance was held in the Royal Albert Hall on 11 November 1923. The title of that first gathering, that continues to this day, reveals its purpose – “In Memory 1914-18 – A Cenotaph In Sound, in aid of The British Legion, Field Marshal Earl Haig’s Appeal for Ex-Service Men of all Ranks.”
Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) famously observed, “People need more to be reminded than informed.”
Why do you think the great essayist and author of the first dictionary of the English language believed this and what are your thoughts on his observation?
1. Read John 15: 9-17:
Questions: (see Helpful Hints below)
1.1 In the context of this teaching from Jesus, how are we to understand verse 13?
1.2 Why do we remember those who have given their lives for the freedom of others and how does this affect us today?
2. Read Matthew 26: 17-30:
2.1 What is the Passover meal?
2.2 What is its purpose for Jewish people?
2.3 How and why was Jesus fulfilling and re-imagining the Passover?
3. Read 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26: Why do you think Jesus commanded his followers to share together in the sacrament of communion (i.e. to remember Him)?
4. As we read in the Bible, a recurring theme is that God instructs His people to build something to remember Him (e.g. Genesis 13: 4,18; Joshua 4: 4-24; Judges 6:34); to gather together as a nation at set times in Jerusalem to remember His presence with them in the past; not to forget Him (e.g. Deuteronomy 5:15; Psalm 103:2) and also that we are to remember Christians from the past (e.g. Malachi 3:16; Hebrews 12:1).
Why do you think this is?
5. Read Psalm 77. Consider how this psalm illustrates the place of remembrance in the life of discipleship.
Some Christians wear a cross as a piece of jewellery, as a tattoo and/or carry one in their pocket/wallet/handbag. Many journal; share personal stories of faith with others; read Christian biographies ….
How in the rhythm of your daily life, do you remember Christ and how does this help your daily life of discipleship?
How might you develop the spiritual discipline of remembrance and in so doing grow in faith?
Helpful Hints for discussion questions:
1.1. In the context of the passage which is about the love of God for His people, this verse points forward to the love of God for us in Christ. This is demonstrated in the willing sacrifice of the Son of God to secure the forgiveness of sins for all of humanity who through faith in Christ receive new life in God.
Christians are called to be people of love like Christ. Giving one’s life for the good of another is the ultimate demonstration of sacrifice and love.
2.1. The Passover Feast is one of the three great pilgrimage festivals that God commands his people, the Jews, to celebrate each year. The festival commemorates God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (Exodus 12) and the journey that He took them on to freedom in the Promised Land.
2.2. See Exodus 12:24. The Passover reminds the Jewish people of their history and helps to define their identity and relationship with God and each other as a distinct community.
2.3. The Passover and the story of the exodus have great significance for Christians as Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, including the symbolism of the Passover (Matthew 5:17). Jesus is our Passover Lamb (see 1 Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 5:12). He was killed at Passover time and the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Luke 22:7–8) through which believers receive freedom i.e. new life in God. By (spiritually) applying His blood to our lives by faith, we trust Christ to save us from death and enjoy new life with God in the present and for eternity with the indwelling presence of the spirit of God. The Israelites who, in faith, applied the blood of the sacrificial lamb to their homes become a model for Christians. It was not the Israelites’ ancestry or good standing or amiable nature that saved them; it was only the blood of the lamb that made them exempt from death (see John 1:29 and Revelation 5:9–10).
3. So that Christians remember that our faith is dependent on Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. Through our shared remembrance in this symbolic meal, faith is nourished, community deepened and identity revealed. In the Protestant denominations, baptism and
communion are sacraments. A sacrament is a rite that Christ instituted and commanded. Theologically, through honouring Christ in a sacrament, the faith of the believer is nourished by God in a special way.
4. “The biblical understanding of remembrance extends far beyond nostalgic recall. It embraces a comprehensive range of human experiences, for the purpose of fully integrating faith and life and so living in the fullness of personal and corporate relationship with God.
Disciplined remembrance is institutionalized in biblical faith because we are called to interpret our present circumstances in light of God’s known faithfulness in the past. Correspondingly, forgetfulness was seen as one of humankind’s greatest spiritual maladies (hence the psalmist’s call to “forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2)). When people had fresh experiential knowledge of God, they responded in wholehearted obedience, but forgetfulness led to wandering from God. The book of Judges attributes the multiple problems of those days to the forgetfulness of the people: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs’ (Judges 3:7).”……
The twin celebrations of Passover (Exodus 12:14) and the Lord’s supper or Eucharist (Luke 22: 19 and 1 Cor. 11: 24-26) reflect the most prominent memorials in the Old and New Testament. Each recalls particular messages of deliverance and salvation; each elicits the fullest effects of every human sense. Total sensory involvement of participants provides the compelling link between these significant historic events and the anticipation of faithful living; reverence for the past is merged with relevance in the present. Other examples of intentional recall which utilize human senses include memorials of stones (Exodus 28:12, Joshua 4:4-24) and trumpet blasts (Numbers 10: 9-10).”
(source: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP, 1998)
5. Psalm 77 illustrates the place of remembrance in the life of discipleship. The psalmist begins with an expression of his struggle with his circumstances and with God (77: 1-3), whom he sees as the origin of his problems (77: 4-9). In the midst of his emotional turmoil, he remembers “the deeds of the Lord” (77: 11), and he specifically recalls the deliverance at the Red Sea (77: 16-20). As a result of his remembrance his attitude changes from lament to worship (77: 13-14) and his faith is deepened.
Richard Jones, 08/11/2017