Proper 32 C – Remembrance Sunday
7 November 2010
By Stuart Pike
Today and this week we take the time to pause, and to remember those who have given their lives, or who have had their lives taken because of the horror of war.
- Questions are: what do we remember, and why do we remember.
- What: those who died, bravery, courage, valour. The stories that are told afterwards at the legion hall over a beer. The comradeship, the excitement, the adventure.
- But it is most important to remember what war is, and what it means to individuals, and what it costs in terms of human life, and human happiness. In terms of suffering and in terms of anguish for those who lost those who they loved.
- The reason it is important that this be a part of what we remember brings us to the answer to the question of why we remember.
- There are many answers to that question. Part of it is so that we can remember the extent to which those who died and suffered in wars went through. Part of remembering the worst about the wars is to honour the dead in the measure of their courage and valour. But the most important reason why we must remember is to protect their honour, so that their lives needn't be in vain. If we do not learn by our history, then we are doomed to repeat it, and so we must remember our history. Not only in terms of academics. Not only in terms of dates and geography. We must remember our history in terms of human souls and human effort, and in terms of individuals known to us. In terms of brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers lost. This is how we protect their honour by doing our best to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Billy Collins was the poet laureat of the United State when 9/11 happened in 2001 and he wrote the following poem which speaks about the human cost of violence and terrorism and about remembering them. The spirit of the poem can speak to the human cost of war as well.
The Names - Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee, Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds –
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
It seemed not so long ago that remembrance day was about remembering those who fought in the first or second world war. It was about watching aging veterans marching past a cenotaph. But our recent history has changed all of that. Mixed in with older veterans, we see the young, and we know that the list of names grows with new names: names of sisters and brothers, names of children, and even grandchildren. The tragedy of war continues, and the cost of it is still measured in human lives stopped short and future relationship extinguished.
What can we say about them? – about their potential dashed? If we were the Sadducees, we would say that there was no future for them, nor for us after earthly life is finished. It is not logical, it is not imaginable for us, therefore it cannot exist.
Thank God that Jesus gives us a glimpse of a reality that is far deeper than our logic and the limitations of our imagination. Our human experience cannot compare to the perfect relationships which we will share with God and all people in heaven. The very deepest and most intimate love which we can possibly know, such as in marriage on earth, gives us an indication of the depths of love which we will have with everyone in heaven. We will be in union with God and in perfect peace with everyone.
On this Remembrance Sunday, when we remember so many names of those who have died through war, let us pledge to give our lives to reflect on earth, the perfect peace which they know, who now love more deeply than we can imagine and are in the presence of God. Amen.