Well, it seems like no time at all since I staggered out of the harvest season, having negotiated, in three successive weekends, three harvest services and three harvest suppers (all of which were both substantial and enjoyable). Now, at the time of writing, with plans being negotiated and put in place, Advent and Christmas are looming up over the horizon of church life. Before we can get into that season, however, there is some remembering to be done.
Most obviously, in November, there is the remembering of war on Remembrance Sunday, which this year coincides with Armistice Day, November 11th, the day the First World War came to an end in 1918. All three churches in the pastorate will mark the day in their morning worship. In Ingatestone and in Billericay we even change service times so that URC members can join (increasing) crowds of people gathering around the local war memorials for a public act of remembrance.
I must admit to being surprised and bemused to hear that our government intends to spend several tens of millions of pounds in 2014 (when I presume we will still be in a period of austerity) to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. After all, as a nation we seem to have been remembering that war quite effectively, on an annual basis, for many years, by marking the anniversary of its conclusion. Given that I began this year as mildly sceptical about the Olympics and am ending it as an enthusiast, however, I am cautious about criticising. Perhaps I will appreciate whatever comes out of this initiative.
I suppose my worry is that if you mark the start of the war there is a danger that you treat it as a celebration. Remembrance can be a mixed affair. After all, acknowledging human bravery and the virtues of comradeship and community in the midst danger and difficulty is right to do, but only when accompanied by remembering the horrors of humanly contrived carnage, destruction, death and loss that are intrinsic to warfare. Each of us as individuals will have our views on where the balance should be struck between these competing demands but it is a bigger challenge to hold together the different conclusions we reach in an agreed, shared act of remembrance.
Other acts of remembrance, closer to (our URC) home also exhibit similar complexities. The United Reformed Church came into being in October 1972, which is worth remembering with pride and celebration, though forty years down the road the original vision for further church unity needs to rethought and there are a lot fewer URC members around now to do the rethinking. If you want to think back three hundred and fifty years, to 1662, should we not celebrate the beauties of the Book of Common Prayer, published in that year, yet also mark the ‘Great Ejection’ of hundreds of clergy from the Church of England, also in that year, that gave rise to the Nonconformist tradition that underlies so much of the history, life and ethos of United Reformed Church?
And if we dig down deep into the roots of Christian faith, to Jesus’ orders, given at the dinner table, that in gathering to eat bread and drink wine, we do these things in order to ‘remember’ him, we can find a similar mixture of sadness and celebration. After all, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist brings to mind not only the companionship of Jesus’ followers but his arrest and execution, not only his death but his resurrection. It’s not that one thing cancels out the other but that all must somehow be held together so that we can fully remember; as it is around the communion table, so it around the world, and vice-versa.