Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Remembrance Day 2020

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

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Meditation and Prayer for Wincobank Chapel members, Sheffield

Remembrance Day is an annual reminder of the horrors of war, the loss of millions of lives and homes through war.

There are stories of the “fallen heroes”, and we remember that in modern warfare, one in ten of those killed are members of the armed forces, the rest are civilians whose stories cannot be forgotten.

Remembrance Day is on 11 November because it is the day on which World War One ended. A two minutes silence is held to remember all those who have died in war.

11th November also marks St Martin of Tours Day. Martin was an officer in the Roman Army. He died on 8 November and was buried in Tours on 11th November in the year 397.

While stationed in Amiens, Gaul, Martin met a poor man, barely dressed, asking for alms. Martin tore his military cloak in half with his sword, and gave half of it to the man, and draped half of it over his shoulder.

For Martin, the poor man was a manifestation of Christ, he became a follower of Christ, and became a monk, then an abbot, and then in 371 he became Bishop of Tours.

He protected people from persecution and torture, and gave support to marginalised and excluded people of his day.

Martin’s cape became a relic which was kept in a tent. The tent came to be called capella. The priests who said prayers in the tent were called capellini.

The English words Chapel and Chaplain are said to derive from these terms. The words refer to compassion and protection from harm.

St Martin is central to the Christian commitment to compassion and non-violence.

Wincobank Chapel is draped with poppies, almost a cape made from poppies.

Poppies are an enduring symbol of remembrance. I have the traditional red poppies, white poppies, black poppies, and poppies remembering Sikhs.

In the world of 2020, we remember the huge number of people who have died and are dying from the menace of Covid-19.

We are called to remember and honour people who front the ministry of compassion and protection, NHS staff from cleaners to consultant surgeons, and all who offer care in so many ways.

Remember is an important word.

It appears almost 9,000 times in the Bible.

Frequently the one who is doing the remembering is God.

Human beings remember. Most importantly, God remembers. Everything and everyone, including you, is enfolded and held forever in the memory of God.

“Memory is a teacher. If we are wise, we learn from experience as we reflect on it, we grow in wisdom, and don’t repeat mistakes”.

Words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to me on Remembrance Day 2000, as we waited to join the service at the Cenotaph in London.

Jonathan Sacks died on 7th November 2020. I remember him and his wisdom with thanks.

Memory itself has to be used with wisdom, because it can conceal as well as reveal.

Memory can build mythology which enlarges some bits and forgets other bits.

Memories of battle do this.

It elevates and build up glorious moments. It belittles and buries inglorious details.

Stories of victorious battles don’t always tell of the misery of the scene.

We need to pay attention to what and who is remembered and how. 

There are the fallen “heroes”, and there are those who are massacred.

There are also those who refused to pick up weapons and kill.

Ninety percent of all refugees in the world had to leave their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere because of the destruction of war and violence.

I asked two teenage refugees from Syria what their future hope is. They said they hope to return to Syria. I asked what would make that possible. Without hesitation they said, “when the killing stops”.

When I was a teenager I recall helping to carry to the top of Ben Nevis, a granite stone with a message of peace and forgiveness from people in Hiroshima. It was a stone representing the prayers of people still living with the memory of the Atomic Bomb that obliterated their City killing 80,000 and injuring 35,000 people.

When I was a young Minister in Wolverhampton in the early 80s the mothers of British Soldiers away in the Falkland War used to come daily to have a few minutes of prayer in the Church, to pray for an end of the war, and for the safe return of their sons.

We remember them and all who are in our mind.

Every life is precious.

People throughout the world pray for peace.

This is the prayer today in the USA, with the announcement of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the new Presidential team announced yesterday.

I want to conclude with a prayer written by the Rev Dr Ray Davey, founder of Corrymeela Community.

I wrote this down on 11/11/2010, 11am in the presence of Ray and Alison (his daughter) from Ray’s war diary. Ray wrote this while he was a prisoner of war. He was not released till May 1945.

It is an appropriate prayer for today also.

RAY DAVEY PRAYER DATED 10 JUNE 1944

O God of all ages, we know that we live in momentous days, days of destiny and change.

Today we look to the world, we think of all that happens there.

Humbly and in faith we commit our cause to thee.

We confess our wrongs and evils, as a nation and as individuals.

We admit our part, and we accept our blame for this disordered and shattered world.

Be with all who take part in the struggle, endue them with patience, courage and crown their efforts with success.

May all the nations learn the folly, uselessness and senselessness of war.

And in thine own good time may a just and lasting peace be born from the ashes and destruction of so many lands and lives.

Give us the determination to live in patience and faith until the day of our freedom.

Breathe in us anew the burning resolve to fashion a society that shall think more of the things that bind men together than those that keep them apart.

Give us the will to raise a new community, God centred and God controlled.

Give us the practical willingness to plan the remaking of our own homes and the rededication of our lives, so that our land may be built on the solid basis of love and trust.

O God of our captivity, whose hand has held and sustained us through this weary journey,

Be with us now in these days of suspense and waiting.

As thou hast been our guide and strength in the past strengthen us now.

Give us the quiet mind of patience and confidence.

We remember thou hast said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth thee”.

Father who hast created the nations as all members of the great human family, cause the terrible strife to cease.

And when it comes to an end may reason. Justice and foresight prevail.

Cleanse our hearts from the spirit of revenge and hatred and reprisal.

Give us the spirit of charity and forgiveness.

We would reaffirm our belief in love as the centre of life.

Give us the determination and faith so to live as individuals and nations that wars may be outlawed forever.

Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal

8 November 2020