Lest we forget
Remembrance – Ten Bridesmaids
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.as he tried to make sense of the unfortunate turn of events leading to him engaging in what could only be described as a fools errand behind the enemy line. “So do I,” said Gandalf, [in response] “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
As a boy I remember going to Quebec City with my class. We got to visit the old citadel and all the tourist sites. As almost every Canadian child does, we went up to the plains of Abraham, above the city, and re-enacted the battle between the English and the French for those North American Colonies – the year was 1759 and both commanders (Wolfe and Montcalm died) Thereafter France surrendered many of its North American Colonies.
My mother’s uncle went joined the Canadian Grenadier Guards as a junior officer and went off to join the war effort. By the end of the war, he was the senior officer bringing the regiment home. I remember him very fondly as a tall gentle kind man. He was my grandmother’s younger sister, and so I think we naturally got on well. He rarely, if ever, mentioned his experience in the war. I think compared to the comfort of his life in Canada, the horrors of war were unspeakable.
I read this week an article from the Guardian by Simon Jenkins, suggesting that as we come to a century since the end of the first World War, as the personal acts of remembrance for those who had died becomes more and more a nationalised and ceremonial act, should we draw the curtains on the whole thing. Jenkins makes some important points about the need to not turn Remembrance into a ceremony of British Nationalism or triumphalism. He questions whether we will every really learn the lessons of the two world wars,
will we ever stop fighting.
On Friday, as Fr Wainwright used to do, I conducted an act of remembrance at Mill Hill Cemetery with the Dutch equivalent of the British Legion. I was intrigued to learn that in the Netherlands they celebrate their independence on the 5th May and have a day for the Remembrance of the Dead, 24 hours earlier, on the 4th May. The remembering and the celebrating are intentionally separated every year. But what I would say is this, I wish my uncle had said more about his experiences in the second world war. Not because I wish I had heard stories of adventure, or wish I had sat at his feet as he spun tales of the war. Growing up in a country whose experience of war for well over a hundred years was very much abroad. I think remembering the impact of the two world war has stayed the hands of many of those in authority over the last century. As remembering becomes ever more difficult, I think it is all the more important that we be prepared to remember well what happened. And part of that remembering well is about being honest about the reality of war,
but also our understanding of peace. You see peace for some is not really peace. So long as their is injustice then we cannot truly claim to have peace. So part of being prepared to remember well those who died on the fields of Europe and on the many conflicts before and since then, is to remember the need to speak up when there is injustice in the world. Hence the need for organisations like the United Nations, to provide a forum for Nations to speak honestly to other Nations about where they are falling short.
I began my sermon with a quote from the Lord of the Rings, where the Hobbit, Frodo and the Wizard, Gandalf are talking about the nightmare time that they are in. And the need to be prepared to do what needs to be done in the times we are given. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the ten Bridesmaids waiting for the groom. Five are prepared and have bought their oil. Five have not and have gone to sleep waiting for another day to get their supplies. The groom comes and the Five who were prepared go in to the banquet, while the five who were not prepared have to go buy more oil for their lamps. It is a parable about being ready, being prepared. In the words of Baden Powell, explaining the scout motto: being in a state of readiness in body and mind to do your duty.
I also wonder if there isn’t an element of faith, sure they were ill prepared, but it sounds so like the story of the maccabees whose oil, only sufficient for one day, kept burning for eight, celebrated each year by the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah. But even then, it is about being prepared to respond to the Bridegroom when he comes, whatever the situation. Trust in God to give you the skills to do what you need to.
But be prepared to take part, even when things aren’t good.
While we may not, I pray, be asked to make the sacrifice which too many young men and women have made in hopes of bringing peace to the world. But the calling we receive from God to bear the good news, to reach out to our community, with generosity and vulnerability,
can often seem risky and scary. It can lead us into places we don’t expect or particularly want to go, but it is not for us to choose the times we live in, but to be prepared to respond to the call to engage with them.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams