Monday, November 06, 2006
This coming Saturday is Armistice Day, marking the end of WWI, the Great War To End All Wars; and Sunday is Remembrance Sunday.
Memory is a dangerous thing. We tend not to recall historical events, but re-member – put together, again and again – the impact of those events on our lives. And each time we do so – each time we rehearse the story to ourselves; each time we tell it to another, as much to persuade ourselves as to persuade them – the distance between event and interpretation widens. Perhaps that is in part why Miroslav Volf suggests that there is a time to forget – especially where we have been/feel wronged – as well as a time to remember…
Just because memory is dangerous does not mean that it is bad; but that it needs to be handled with care. Every Sunday (and at other times, too), Christians remember Jesus’ death as they share bread to symbolize his broken body and wine to symbolize his spilt blood. And here, too, I’d suggest we don’t so much think about Jesus’ Passion, as about the impact of that event on our lives. And thinking about that impact is important – indeed, it is the impact on our collective lives as a community that re-members, or, puts back together again, the broken Body of Christ, the Church. But thinking about the impact without reflecting on the event – albeit that we have no direct access to the historical event – puts us, ironically, in danger of erasing Jesus from our lives, as Communion becomes All About Me.
Recently we attended my grandad’s 90th birthday celebrations. After lunch, my dad – grandad’s oldest child – made a toast in his honour. Dad spoke about how proud he had been, as a small boy, of his dad, because he had won the Distinguished Flying Cross in WWII. But granddad would never speak about the War. So one day my dad asked his godfather what they had won the DFC for; and he told him, for surviving. And for a while that left dad disappointed in his father: he wasn’t the War Hero he had thought. But later he realized that he had been wrong: Jack was a hero. Night after night they had flown on bombing raids over Germany; and night after night, close friends did not return (3,249 Avro Lancaster Bombers were lost; and 1,332 Vickers Wellington Bombers)…and yet, night after night, they kept going. Survival may have included a significant element of chance; but those who survived were nonetheless worthy of enormous respect.
Had Jack been shot down, there might be no me. And so I am grateful. But that is not reason enough, to remember self-sacrifice – and to choose to forget, to let go of, atrocity and enmity. Grandad’s life, marked with great dignity, is worth honouring for him, not simply because of those who follow.
And I’m grateful for what Jesus has done for me. But, I want to love him for who he is, not simply for what he has done. At the end of the day, it may be as impossible to separate-out who he is from what he has done (for me) as it is impossible to separate-out historical event from (self-interested) interpretation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try.
memory , remembrance , simulacrum , Communion