A reflection on the Season of Remembrance
Beginning with All Saint’s Day today, November is a season of remembrance. We celebrate and give thanks for the holy people who have gone before us, and we remember with thanksgiving those who have died, including those who gave their lives for our freedom. Maybe also in more trivial ways, as the leaves are falling, we remember the long summer evenings and, in our melancholy, we may also think about those people who have crossed our paths but who have disappeared out of sight.
To remember is joyful as well as painful: when we give thanks for what was, we inevitably think as well of what is no longer; when we grieve for those who have given their lives in battle, we also give thanks for the freedom we now enjoy. We cannot help but to remember, although at times we can wonder if we remember what was or if we imagine a negative of what is absent now, if our memory of the past serves to fill a hole in the present.
Remembering is not just an act of the mind, but we remember with our whole bodies. When we grieve, we often feel a physical pain: our body aches as well as our soul. We cannot point to it like a broken bone, but it is no less real. I think that is why we so often feel the need to ‘do’ something to remember. For some it means visiting a grave or a special place, for others it might mean making a plaque or planting a seed. For many of us, I suspect, it involves having a meal.
Having a meal can be the last thing you would want to do. Not only has the thought of food become off-putting, also the company of others makes you want to hide away. However, and we may not be ready for it yet, food and company is where healing can have a beginning.
It will come as no surprise that I think this is true for the Eucharist as well. When Jesus had his last meal with his disciples, he said to them ‘Do this to remember me’. Every time we eat the bread and drink the wine, we remember his death and resurrection, and in that remembering we bring all our own memories too: it is the moment when time and eternity meet.
Remembering is by no means only looking back: true remembering means looking forward. It means living our lives honouring the past and those who have gone before us. So maybe sometimes to remember means to forget, so that we free up the hole we tried to fill and make space to live again.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Remember – Christina Rosetti