Matthew 25:1-13 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Why do we remember? On a day like this, at a time when we’re struggling to cope with the invisible enemy that threatens our lives and that may leave deep scars to many, we may feel that remembering those who fought for our freedom in armed conflict, should take a bit of a back seat. Our focus is so much now on staying safe among our peers, not on fighting battles on the shores. However, that would be a mistake. Remembering those whose lives were given for their loved ones and others, is a good thing, because it connects us with a part of our story that should not be forgotten; because it helps us live now and in the future. And yet, even that human story of past and present wars is not the complete picture. If we were to stop at that, at simply remembering the conflict and reading the names, we would not do ourselves or even them any service. Why? Because we all need context. And the context of Remembrance is not only the past; it is the future. Let me explain, first with another question:
Why do you think the story of my late husband’s grandfather is still remembered in his family? Jan de Pagter, who was a member of the Resistance during World War Two and was betrayed and taken away to die in a concentration camp, gave his fellow prisoners a life-line by reading from the small Bible he had managed to take with him in the deep pocket of his overcoat when he was arrested. And this story, which was written down in letters from survivors to his widow after the war, has been kept alive in our remembering, as a sign of hope, even in our own lives, in our own context. It has given his family a perspective on life which helps us deal with issues of the present in the light of the future. Again: Why? Because of hope. There is hope in remembering what has been achieved in the past for the good of others. We remember those who gave so much, because we realise that our lives would be very different if they hadn’t done what they did.
So today we remember. We remember those whose names are on crosses and memorials and cenotaphs and we show our respect for lives that were lost in battle; the lives of their families changed with them forever. We also remember those whose acts of bravery never reached the memorials – who were faithful in their efforts to protect their families through other means, like hiding people or printing forbidden news and encouraging those in prison. We remember, because it is part of our story, and it helps us move on into the future.
There is also another side to the story of Remembrance, as the reading from Matthew is hinting at: the parable of the ten bridesmaids, who waited for the arrival of the wedding party. Five were wise and five were foolish, it says. It is a parable that speaks to us about not losing hope and to remain prepared. It means understanding what the future – from God’s point of view – is all about. That means, among other things, remembering. Remembering what God has done for us in the past, so that we may have hope for the future. And also being thankful for the lives of those who were obedient to the call to protect others in the face of injustice and terror. When the five wise bridesmaids left home that day, they remembered to bring their lamps but also enough oil; for they didn’t know how long they would have to wait. When the five foolish bridesmaids left home that day, they only took their lamps and didn’t think about the oil that would keep them going. They were like those who go to battle without proper preparation. The five wise ones, on the other hand, were like those who realise that the battle may take a long while and that there will be a risk of being caught out for not having the right gear. Among other things, the right gear in the face of adversity and, possibly, simply making it through what life throws at us, is faith. And that takes us to the future hope of 1 Thessalonians 4, which talks about the day when all shall be revealed and redeemed in the return of Jesus Christ, and there shall be peace for ever.
We remember because we need to realise what is at stake. We remember, because faith, and hope, are vital in times of uncertainty. And we remember, because we want to be prepared for the future. So that, one day, we may see justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.