I just returned from the annual Remembrance Day service at the nearby Etobicoke Civic Centre cenotaph. 200 or so people stood in a heavy snowfall to gather, observe the laying of wreaths, hear a few hymns and prayers, and honour our soldiers, dead and alive. But mostly, simply, we gathered to remember. Despite the weather, people came because being together was important. As the snow blew, we sang:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
We are created to remember. As we go through our days, every new event brings with it a flood of memories which guide us in how we experience it. These memories both protect us from harm and open up pathways to trying new things. They teach us how to pursue the things we like and avoid the things we dislike. Hopefully, they teach us to not repeat past mistakes.
Every person brings their own story to the cenotaph. Why did a young mother stand in the snow with her infant baby strapped over her shoulder? Perhaps her grandfather is a veteran. What of the experience of the mother who lost children in Afghanistan? She came, to help us learn the lessons of history, and for us, together, to help her make sense of the pain of her loss. The shared memory of a people gathered together in silence speaks loudly.
God created us to remember. God, who have His own Son for us, asks us to remember. "This is my body, my body given for you. Do this to remember me," Jesus said at the Last Supper. In doing so he picked up on the instruction given in the Law of Moses to always remember the great works of God. Jesus refocuses our memories from an event to his divine Self.
The church has great collective memory, not only of its own short history, but also of two millennia of shared experience. Most of all, it retains memory of Jesus who died for us. And we as gather as the church, regularly, to remember. This does not discount the memory of the veteran; rather, it enhances it. The sacrifice of many gains meaning from the sacrifice of the One.
In a society which is quickly forgetting the meaning of the sacred, this annual event stands out. God, thank you for the opportunity to remember, together.