We are about to enter a Season of Remembrance. Today is All Saints’ Day, when we remember all those who have gone before us, and whose deposit of faith we have inherited. In our locality, the congregation stretches back to 930AD, so that is a lot of saints, or saints-who-were-also-sinners. Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day, when we remember those who we ourselves have known and loved, who have passed through death to life ahead of us. Soon after, we come to Armistice Day, when we remember the cessation of hostility of the First World War; and Remembrance Sunday, when we remember those who have died in conflict in that and all subsequent wars.
The First World War changed the way we think about death and the dead. For many families, there was no possibility of a funeral, or a grave. Mass monuments for the whole parish in a sense took us back to the mass ‘parish grave’—for a long time, people, other than the very rich, were buried together, with marker stones indicating that they were buried ‘nearby’ rather than actually marking their grave. The Service of Remembrance in a sense took the place of a funeral service. And often, both the monument and the act of remembering took place in the market square, rather than the church building.
The Service of Remembrance has become a ‘holy cow’ that cannot be questioned. But I wonder, at what point do we need to let ghosts lie, and allow people to pass from this form of Remembrance to the remembrance of All Souls’ Day and then All Saints’ Day?
I wonder, for example, whether after next year, after 100 years has passed, we need to stop marking Armistice Day, the end of WWI; and allow Remembrance Sunday to mark those wars that have been fought since that War? And if 100 years is not enough—we don't mark any wars that pre-date WWI in this way—then when might be? 150? 200? Never?
It is not that remembrance is not important; but that it comes in more than one form.
I still remember my grandfathers, who fought in the Second World War (so, an All Souls’ connection) but know no-one who fought in the First World War (they have become to me an All Saints’ connection).
Remembrance involves a letting go—not a perpetual holding on—an entrusting to God, and a move from grief at loss to thankfulness for all that was good. It is a process, as much for communities as for individuals.
Perhaps we need to remember what remembrance is truly for?