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Remembrance Service for The Royal Green Jackets

Remembrance Sunday

10 November 2002 11:00 | Fr John Slater

We are here to remember, and any Act of Remembrance involves a number of different things. Perhaps the first is thanksgiving. The First World War, with which our Remembrancetide observations began, is now receding into history with fewer and fewer of those who fought in that war still alive to tell us about it.

Just a few years ago, Badgy Owen died just short of ninety years of age. I knew him because he came to reunions at the King’s Troop in St John’s Wood when I was the vicar there and chaplain of the Troop. He had lied about his age and joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1916. He survived the war and made the army his life, fighting again in the Second World War. He had a stock of stories - and songs - about the wars which gave us all a deep sense of what we owed to those who fought and died that we might live in freedom.

But there is a second word which I would put next to thanksgiving in what we are doing in observing Remembrancetide - and that word is hope. And by that I mean the hope that those who paid the supreme sacrifice are not only remembered by us but also themselves go on to a fuller and richer and eternal life. Of course, there is a kind of hope which is no more than whistling in the dark and which has no realistic foundation whatever. But for the Christian, hope in eternal life does have a foundation in the nature of God as he has revealed himself to us. If our Creator is truly a God of love, then I believe we can be confident that he does not cease to love us when our physical bodies decay - any more than we ourselves cease to love those who have died just because they pass from our physical sight.

Men and women are more than just physical bodies. We speak of having also an immortal soul - which has been described as a kind of genetic code which stores all the information about who we are and all we have felt or done. One day there will be no one left alive who remembers my friend Badgy Owen, but his soul - that genetic definition of all that he was - will be held in the eternal memory of God. We know that eventually, not only our small planet but this entire universe will face extinction. But the loving God who made us and who remembers each one of us will make a new heaven and a new earth, and bring to new life all those held in his eternal memory.

So we look back with deep thanksgiving, and we look forward with infinite hope. And what about the present? How are we to live to be worthy of those who died and equally worthy of a glorious resurrection? The blueprint is fairly clear, I think - bequeathed to us by those who died. We must honour what they honoured and value what they valued - Queen and country, home and family, friends and neighbours, a decent life which is never selfish but rather sacrificial, a proper pride in our national freedom and democratic traditions.

That is, at least, a good start for a good life - though I’m sure that as we think of those who paid the supreme sacrifice, we are uncomfortably aware that they did more than has yet been asked of us. May God give us strength to be truly faithful to their example on the day when more is asked of us.
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