Sunday, 11 November 2012


Today's Mass at St Matthias was offered as a requiem for all those who have died, over the centuries, through war and violence.

Remembrance Sunday is first and foremost a secular celebration, observed by people of all faiths and none, promoted by the State and the British Legion. What, if anything, do we as the Church have that is distinctive to say?

Well, there's quite a bit we can't say, if we are to be faithful to the gospel. To be frank, today is one of those days when people put pressure on clergy and churches to say, or sing, or imply things that we simply cannot, if our response is to be genuinely Christian, do. Our gospel is one of peace, which sees war as a product of sin. And our vision of the Kingdom of God is transnational. We are not in the business of promoting one country, its interests, and its history at the expense of other peoples'. The Church is, as we say in the Creed, Catholic - for everyone.

But, when all that's said and done, we are left with the pain, the memories of people who never came home, the awareness that this pain is shared by people all over the world, and the ongoing realities of bloodshed that we see, and are in danger of being desensitised to, on our television screens and in our newspapers. We cannot say nothing in the face of this. What, then, do we say?

First, we acknowledge the pain, and the ongoing turmoil. Black vestments are worn at today's Mass, as we hold the tragic violent history of humanity before God. Today's liturgy felt more sombre. There was more silence; the organ was used less. Quietly and reflectively, we bring the mess of this Earth to God through his Son, who has shared our pain, and himself suffered a violent death at the hands of an occupying army.

Second, we have a message of hope. This is important. Death and violence are not the last word in human history. Nor, we pray, are they the last word in the lives of those we have loved and lost. We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the word to come. However terrible, however unchanging, the violence of our world might seem, however tempted we might be to be overwhelmed by it, we believe that the ultimate victory has already been won by God in Jesus Christ. In that hope we commit ourselves to working for a peaceful and just world. In that hope also we commend all those who have died to God. We believe that, through Jesus, they have a future.

This is important: when we have no hope for the future of the dead, we have no option but to dwell exclusively on their past. If we do not believe that they can be redeemed in the future, we all too readily make futile attempts to redeem their past, by retelling their stories, by airbrushing history in a romantic way. This is when talk about remembering the war dead becomes dangerous; we forget the horror, glory in an imagined past, and sit back as a new generation are sent off to die. But, as Christians, we are set free from this. Those who have died have a future. And they have this because of Jesus. Which is why the best way to remember the dead, however they have died, is to do what we do every Sunday, to follow his command, "do this in remembrance of me".

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