Like many of you, I have had more time to read books during this pandemic. Many books published recently describe the daily lives of people in Europe during WWII. Both fiction and non-fiction books reveal the anxiety and terror of people under threat of bombs or invasion. Some tell stories of Nazi occupation, food shortages, prejudice, and betrayal. Others reveal the compassion, bravery and resilience of people who confronted the hatred and cruelty of war. Several books I have read recently remind me that goodness can endure even in the presence of crushing injustice.
We hold Remembrance Day as an important public event in the month of November. We honour those who served and suffered in the two World Wars and in conflicts since then around the world. We remember their service as soldiers and we remember those who served and waited at home for the warfare to end.
At local cenotaph memorials we gather with veterans and families to lay wreaths, to hear the trumpet call, and to pray for peace. In our churches, we remember the bravery and self-sacrifice of men and women and the sacred obligation to strive for peace among all people. November 11 marks a time of remembrance of the past and a time of hope for the future.
In our church calendar, we begin the month of November with two days of remembrance. November 1 is All Saints’ Day when we celebrate people, past and present, who have remembered God’s call to work for a better world of justice and compassion. We may think of saints as people of the Bible, but saints are found in all communities where hatred and suffering are overcome by self-sacrifice and love.
On November 2, we give thanks to God for All Souls who are now in eternal rest. On that day, we have an opportunity to remember family members and friends who have touched our lives.
Remembrance is a universal aspect of humanity which has existed from the ancient world to today. In the Biblical culture of the Hebrew people, remembrance was an important way of integrating faith with life as God’s people. In worship and in a yearly cycle of festivals, the Hebrew people joined a reverence for God’s saving acts of the past with daily life in the present. Scrolls of remembrance, memorials of stone and trumpet calls were used to maintain the remembrance of past deeds, similar to the way we mark Remembrance Day today.
In the book of Exodus, God commands the people to keep the Passover observance (Exod 12:14). In the ritual of the Passover meal, family and friends hear stories, taste symbolic food, see and touch sacred vessels. The Passover meal utilizes almost all the human senses to remember God’s deliverance of the people from human bondage in Egypt.
It was at the festival of the Passover in Jerusalem that Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. The similarities between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper are striking. Jesus offers the disciples bread and wine to taste and to receive as his body and blood. He commands them to remember him as they repeat this ritual in the days to come. In his last teaching with the disciples, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and “bring to their remembrance” all that he had taught them (John 14:26).
By remembering the past, we may find hope for the present and for the future. By remembering the teaching of Jesus, we are encouraged to work for justice and compassion in our world today. By remembering God’s love for all humanity, we may find the strength and courage to seek and sustain goodness in the face of anxiety and adversity.