This is the time of year when the stories of the nation connect with our personal stories. We remember those who died in armed conflict or suffer as a result of war. Some of those we remember will be known to us – friends, comrades or family members will be especially in our minds. Countless others will not be known to us. On this occasion we remember them all, giving thanks for what they gave up. As the Kohima Epitaph says: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’ It is politicians who declare wars: it is ordinary people who fight them. Today is not a day for glorifying war, but for being grateful to those ordinary men and women who died and suffered in them.
But it doesn’t end there. One way to honour their memories is by the way we remember the past. If we are locked in to the bitterness of the conflict, we will be held back by it. Such bitterness poisons the present and darkens the future. This is not honouring their memories. On the other hand, we do honour their memories if their death and suffering can build a resolve within us to strengthen our hope, build a better future and work for peace and justice.
Strengthening hope, building a better future and working for peace and justice may seem a distant dream as we are locked down in fear of Covid and, in addition, as we struggle with an uncertain political future. But in remembering and being thankful for those who gave their ‘today’ for our ‘tomorrow’, we may be encouraged and inspired by their heroism and determination.
I conclude with the moving story of Edith Cavell. She was a nurse in the World War1 who is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers, without discrimination, from both sides of the conflict. She also helped soldiers escape from enemy occupied territory in Belgium and for this she was arrested and eventually executed. On the night before her execution in 1915 Edith Cavell wrote,
Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough: I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
Can we dig as deeply as that?