As the days shorten, and the leaves fall, November leads us into winter with a season of remembering. From All Saints, through Bonfire Night, to Remembrance Day itself, we look back on people and events that have inspired us and shaped us.
This year our remembering started at the end of October, with a special service to mark Reformation Sunday, 500 years after Martin Luther first nailed his 95 Theses to a church door and set off the Protestant Reformation. We remember with sadness the bloodshed and the divisions that followed, even as we celebrate our own Reformed tradition.
All Saints Day, the 1st November, is a day to honour those who have gone before us in the faith – not just the Apostles and the named Saints, but also the ordinary people, whose names are unknown to us, who have quietly and faithfully worked out their own faith and handed it on to succeeding generations. In honouring them, we pray that we too might live faithful lives, and hand on what we have received to the generations still to come.
Bonfire Night, the 5th, falls on a Sunday this year. I’m sure many of us will enjoy fireworks and fun over that weekend. We might, though, pause to remember that Bonfire Night celebrates the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when a group of conspirators planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Whatever we think of our government this was not the way to change things.
Remembrance Sunday is on the 12th, and we shall mark it in the usual way with the one-minute silence at 11am. When I was a child, Remembrance Day was all about looking back to the two World Wars; we were told that it was to remind us never to go to war again. Now our armed forces are once again in active service, and the day has mixed emotions: honouring those who have made great sacrifices, while still actively hoping that war might cease.
Remembering is more than nostalgia. We learn about ourselves as a nation from the people we honour, the saints and the war heroes, and we encourage their values in our own lives. We learn where we have come from, a former age of persecution, violent plotting and heavy retribution, so that we can appreciate and affirm the religious tolerance of today. We learn, and from our learning we build a vision of where our nation might be heading.
In the church, this vision is not ours alone, but held and shaped within God’s vision which we call the Kingdom of Heaven. This vision, too, is based on remembering. ‘Do this’, said Jesus at the Last Supper, ‘and remember me’. In our national days of remembering, whether festive or sombre, let us always remember that our true identity, across all nations and denominations, is in God. May this always be the real guide and inspiration of our lives.