Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 10:00am

The Act of Remembrance stands out for the majority of people because it is one of the few times in the course of the year when we will make time just to be silent. Whatever else may be said or done today, it is the solemn two minutes of silence that will be the most moving.


Different people will call to mind different things. Some of us will remember the faces of friends we have lost, others close relatives. Some will picture old Newsreel films and consider the grim reality of war, others will look around them and feel grateful for the freedom in which we live, and the sacrifice of others that made it possible.


Yet the silence we will keep has a meaning and a significance of its own, and I think it is useful to consider just what that silence can mean.


When I was a boy I remember my father telling me that in his youth shops would close and factories would stop work at eleven o’clock on Armistice Day, and the machines fall silent. Traffic would pull over to the side of the road, and bus drivers would climb down from their cabs, and take off their caps to bow their heads. Though we might find isolated examples of this nowadays, the country doesn’t stand still as once it did.


Perhaps this is because we are fortunate to live in a generation in which fewer people have been personally touched by the pain of losing friends and relatives in armed conflict than in the years after 1945, yet it remains sad that we cannot seem to find the stillness that once we could. Because the silence itself testifies to the fact that we can make it happen: That we can, when we choose, create peace.


One of the stories many of us remember best from our history lessons at school is the football match that took place in No Man’s Land at Ypres on Christmas Day in 1914. Unexpectedly and spontaneously the two sides called a ceasefire, and for a few precious hours were able to relate to each other simply as the young men that they were. For a time their outlook, their perspective shifted. They were no longer the enemies they had been told to be, they were simply young men, doing what young men do.


Our two minutes of silence gives us the same opportunity. A chance to lay aside for a moment all the grand sweeping ideas of what we think is necessary and practical and strategically important in the here and now, and to consider the bigger picture, to step back and weigh the reasons we are given for armed conflict against the human cost.


And this is important when often the temptation is to suppose that we have no control over our lives, or our destinies, or the course of events in the world. Though at other times we might argue that our actions come from forces beyond our control- from our genes, or from the actions of others, from the grinding cogs of multinational business or politics, our willing act of silence suggests that an alternative is possible. That we have the power to do otherwise if we choose. That however we choose in the future to respond to the violence or aggression of others it will have been our choice and not an inevitable step along the road to war.


The whole purpose of Remembrance is to look unflinchingly at the harshest facts of life and death. In the time that we set aside we remove ourselves from the distractions with which we commonly divert ourselves- the conversation and preoccupations that kept us from considering difficult matters, and we force ourselves to look into the abyss- to see the violence of which we are a part.


In this way Remembrance is, in Christian terms, an act of Repentance- a time for turning away from all that is wrong, and embracing the life that God intends for us. In this sense we are remembering not only all that has gone before, but also who we truly are- children of God, made in His image and likeness. This remembering is not solely an act of looking backwards to the sorrows of the past, but forward to the kind of future that we are going to build.


We should be under no illusions that the peace that God intends for us is easily won. It is not simply the absence of conflict. It is an all-consuming commitment to justice and forgiveness and self-emptying love, and its emblem is the cross, by which Jesus showed that beyond the cruelty and suffering of this life, there is the hope and promise of new life. His invitation to us is to follow him along this path. Not because it is easy, but because it is the only true alternative to what has gone before.