Thursday 31st October 2013

Remembering ... in November

November is an in-between sort of month ... the month which links the autumn days of 'mists and mellow fruitfulness' to grey days which grow dark by tea-time ... the month which reminds us to get ready for the  crisp frosty mornings to come ... the month between the season of Harvest Festivals and the seasons of Advent and (dare I mention it yet?) Christmas.

But it isn't only an in-between month, for it brings its own special 'remembering' days into our church and our community calendar.

~  All Saints Day, celebrated on 1st November, invites people to remember the saints and martyrs who dedicated or sacrificed their lives to Christianity. According to some sources, the origins of All Saints' Day goes back to the fourth century when the Greek Christians kept a festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost.  It was moved to its present position in the calendar in 837AD, although the Eastern Church still keeps to the original date.

~  All Souls Day, marked on 2nd November, dates back to 993AD when the Abbot of Cluny monastery instituted the day for Christians to remember and pray for family members and friends who have died.  Our own Circuit will hold a service on the evening of Sunday 3rd November as a special time of remembering.

~  'Remember, remember, the 5th of November' began in 1605 when an act of treachery against the government was foiled and parliament passed the Observance of 5th of November Act in thanksgiving for the life of King James 1.

~  Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the 11th day of the 11th month, when at 11am in 1918 the Armistice ended the hostilities of the First World War, calls us to remember all those who have given their lives in the cause of peace and freedom.

Obviously remembering is important for any community, so that we know who we are and where we came from, and so that we take the lessons of the past into our future.

Remembering is a recurring Biblical theme too.  Many times the Israelites are told to remember an event - not just to call it to mind, but to re-live it, literally to re-member it - 'to make real in the present that which was real in the past'.  The Passover was the most important event in the history of the Israelite people, and during the annual celebration the story is carefully retold, with symbols and liturgy, to give thanks for God's liberation from their bondage in Egypt.  Time and again the psalmists recall and remember God's faithfulness in the past, in order that they are strengthened in their present trials and struggles.  Remembering was the key to their faithfulness.  You only need to glance through the book of Judges to notice that when they 'forgot the Lord their God' the result was disobedience and defeat.

The most important use of the theme of memory in our worship is related to Holy Communion.  When we break bread and pour wine 'in remembrance', we believe that this is both memorial and remembrance.  That is, we are not only remembering a past event, but we are also re-membering that past event for the present, so that we experience the presence of Jesus with us, just as his friends at the Last Supper experienced his presence with them.

Perhaps November is not such an in-between month after all.  Let's make the most of the opportunity to observe and to re-member its special days, and be thankful for our shared memory and experience.