If Remembrance Day did not exist, we’d have to invent it.
Human beings need ritual points at which they stop and recall where they have come from. An honest appraisal of our ‘story’ should help prevent arrogant amnesia and recall us to a certain collective humility. We didn’t get to where we are today from some sort of historical or cultural vacuum. Which is why, whatever the worldview of people in the UK, we all need to understand and collectively acknowledge the Christian history and development of (at least) Britain.
This isn’t about evangelism or special pleading. Rather, it is about understanding how we have got to where we are… in order that we can understand why we are where we are… in order better to think about where we want to go to.
For Christians this is a regular practice.
The people of Israel were ordered to build into their annual diary particular rituals designed to remind them of their roots. Warned that growing affluence would make them forget, they had to do physical things to ‘live’ the memory. (See Deuteronomy 26, for example.) The basic story of the Hebrew Bible is this: God calls his people to show the world who and ‘how’ he is – a vocation that brings responsibility, not privilege or status. This gets contorted – they forget that once they were slaves who had nothing and they begin (as they were warned would happen) to think that their growing wealth was the product of their own hands alone. Their refusal to remember their story – and then live graciously towards others – led them into exile and the loss of all their identity landmarks.
If we forget that we needed grace, forgiveness, generosity, we will enslave others. If we forget that we were once hungry, we will consume while others starve. That’s the logic.
The Christian community re-members constantly. The Eucharist (Holy Communion) involves a re-telling of the Christian story – a putting back together the ‘members’ or the memories. That is why it is called a ‘eucharist’ – a thanksgiving, because we should not be able to leave this corporate celebration of grace without being reminded of our vocation to give grace.
More could (inevitably and obviously) be said. ‘Never forget’… and build in phyiscal rituals that bring us back to reality – that’s the message that goes beyond military casualties and penetrates our whole common life. But, now I have to go out…