Memory is central to human life. Without the capacity to build up a store of sense experiences and later conscious event memories, we cannot construct ourselves as human beings who can relate to the world and each other. Our earliest memories, whether or not we can bring them to mind readily, come from infancy and early childhood. These early experiences continue to be active in our lives as the bedrock ofthe way in which we relate to others. If our infancy was troubled or if we experienced neglect, then we can find we have difficulty with our relationships in the present. If we were fortunate enough to receive love and responsive care in our early years, we will probably find relationships are less troubled.
Memory is fundamental to our identity as Christians, too. Through the events of Jesus’ life, which we recall and celebrate week by week, and through sharing the Eucharist together, we become, through the reliving of these memories, Christ’s body in the world. We are shaped and made who we are by those events and their continuing power.
During November, we reflect as communities and as a nation on our collective memory. Remembrance Sunday is a time for us to remember all those who have given their lives for others in war. For many of us, as we go about daily life, war seems a distant concern. Either it was a long time ago, or it is happening far away in places utterly ‘other’ than our own context. It’s hard to imagine what life is like in the deserts of Afghanistan or the urban destruction of Syria if you live in peaceful Dorset.
It’s easy to forget that people willingly risk their lives for a cause they don’t necessarily support or even fully understand. War is always a huge failure of imagination and creativity, and more besides. When it is inevitable we are thankful that someone else does the job, and we don’t have personally to face the consequences of that failure. Individuals take risks and sacrifice their own well-being to promote the safety and security of others.
It is important for us as individuals and for society as a whole that we reflect on this sacrificial way of living and dying, in an age when any kind of sacrifice is a difficult concept for us to grasp. It seems as life has got easier we find it much harder than our parents and grandparents did to give up what is precious to us for the good of others. Yet it is a theme that is central to the Christian faith. Christians follow one who gave his life so that we might live. We embody this truth in our worship and we try to live it in our lives. Perhaps in this season of remembrance we might reflect on the ways in which sacrificial living has got ever more counter-cultural, meaning that our acts of remembrance are not less but even more important.
Rev'd Claire McClelland Team Vicar of St Peter's Church