‘We will remember them’. That’s what we promise. And every year since 2002 (when CCB was planted), we have. It’s not always felt comfortable doing so. It feels slightly odd to listen to ‘The Last Post’ played through an iPod. We meet inside a secondary school gymnasium. It hardly creates an atmosphere conducive to a formal act of remembrance. Wonderfully we’re not all British. In fact many have come from countries against whom our country has fought in the past. Few of us have ever done any military service. And not many of us have any military connections. And yet, every year we say the following.
Let us remember with gratitude those who, in the cause of peace and the service of their fellow men, died for their country in time of war.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
And no one complains. I’ve occasionally wondered why that is. After all, we don’t tend to be tub thumping right-wing warmongerers (though they, like anyone else, are always welcome). We live in London amongst the left-wing liberal elites. And some of that has to rub off on us even if we don’t identify unreservedly with their ideology. Post Iraq II and the protracted and painful campaign in Afghanistan, most people are cautious of military intervention. We understand the necessity of the Armed Services. We’re glad that they do what they do. But we’d prefer not to dwell on it too much. It’s like death. We want to keep it at arms’ length and out of sight.
I would imagine that there’ll be a host of reasons why people at CCB are content to commemorate Remembrance Sunday. But chief amongst them must be that we’re Christians. It seems to me that Christians, of all people, ought to be among the strongest supporters of Remembrance Sunday. For we see in the death of our servicemen and service women an echo of an even braver and more brilliant act of self-sacrifice. We know, more than anyone else, what it is to benefit from someone who went to their death in order than we might have life.
In Neil Oliver’s book Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys, he writes this,
‘The older I get, the more I realise how easy I’ve had it all my life. Having been born white and male, into a loving family, living in Great Britain in the last third of the 20th Century, I’ve been dealt what amounts to a winning hand from the cosmic deck of cards. All the opportunities of life have been available to me since day one. I’ve never had to live with poverty, or endemic disease. I’ve never experienced any kind of prejudice or disadvantage born out of race, religion or creed. I’ve been kept safe all of my life by nameless strangers, from dangers both foreign and domestic. Our politicians are as keen to send our soldiers into wars in foreign parts as they ever were, but having been born beyond the grasp of conscription or National Service, as I have, such dangers have always been the other chap’s problems. At 40, I’ve lived long enough to be too old for conscription even if they reintroduced it tomorrow. My safety has been provided for me by people I don’t know and whom I haven’t bothered to thank. I have effectively enjoyed an endless childhood. I’ve acquired certain responsibilities along the way – jobs, mortgages, partner, children – but nothing on a par with the responsibilities borne by men of all generations before me. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s deluded colonel in A Few Good Men, I’ve slept under the blanket of security provided for me by other people’. (p63)
I’ve slept under the blanket of security provided for me by other people. I’ve done so as a citizen. And I’ve done so as a Christian. I formally remembered Jesus Christ’s death only last night as I shared the Lord’s Supper with my church family. And I’ll be formally remembering the death of my fellow countrymen on Sunday when I listen to ‘The Last Post’, stand silent and give my thanks to God for those who self sacrificially gave themselves in war so that I might know peace.
Will we remember them?
I hope so.