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November 2016

Dscf0510 poppies at St Andrew's editThis month’s letter comes from Revd Anne Futcher, Curate in the Holyford Mission Community.

Remembrance

‘O God, please help me to be brave., for the men’s sake, for my family’.  So prayed Gerald Lewes at 6.05am on November 13th 1916 in the Somme Valley.  Blowing his whistle, he shouted ‘Follow me’  – and scrambled up the pegs on the trench sides, over sandbags, and into the still grey landscape above.  We know what happened next – but not from him.

This account is in a book I’m reading about men who served in the Great War.  It’s called ‘Six Weeks’ – the average life expectancy of junior officers who led their men over the top.  And 2nd Lieutenant Lewes is an almost perfect statistic.  He survived at the Front just 4 days longer than average.

2016, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of The Somme, gives us an opportunity to remember those, like Gerald Lewes, who lost their lives in the Battle.  It gives us the opportunity to reflect on the human cost of conflict.  And It also gives us opportunity for hope – an opportunity that’s reflected in the British Legion’s strapline ‘Live on’.  For this strapline carries, I think, a two-fold message: the importance of ensuring that memories of those who died live on through the generations; and that we, too, live on to shape a different future.

It underlines for me that remembrance isn’t simply recalling the past in the present.  Rather, it’s something far more mysterious and powerful.  It involves not living in the past but living in relation to the past, so that lessons can be learnt, healing and forgiveness can take place, and a different future can be shaped by love and compassion.

Reading the diaries and letters of those young men in ‘Six Weeks’, I’m struck by how their testimonies speak of courage and justice, of loyalty and compassion. And I’m particularly struck by how many of them speak about God; how many draw in some way on their childhood faith; how many have a strong sense of One who holds destinies in his hands.

Remembrance, forgiveness and compassion are unequivocally at the heart of the Christian faith.  Among the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before his crucifixion were ‘Do this in remembrance of me’, and among the final words spoken to Jesus on the cross were ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.  Jesus’s entire life, teaching and death were suffused with love and compassion and forgiveness and hope.

So November, with its focus on remembrance and reflection is a sombre month.  But it’s also one of hope.  It invites us, by gazing attentively at past events, to build on the dedication and self-sacrifice of people like Gerald Lewes.  And it invites us to commit ourselves to recreate and renew the world in the light of love and compassion – in the light of the cross.

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