Summary: A sermon linking themes of Remembrance Sunday and Holy Communion - an uncommon combination in English Free churches
This evening is something rather unusual in our church. Very rarely has our calendar so fallen that we celebrate Holy Communion on Remembrance Sunday. At first sight it seems very odd to mix something so religious, Holy Communion, with something with so many secular overtones, Remembrance Sunday. However, if we probe a little deeper, it’s actually very appropriate and right that we do this.
Looking at the world through contemporary eyes, many think that the church should be as far removed from war as possible. This is, though, far from the reality. Those in the churches, many innocent civilians, were affected by war at least as much as other people.
As some of you know, before I came here I worked part-time at the United Reformed Church House. In the entrance hall, beside the stairs is a war memorial. On February 9th 1945, almost the end of the war, one of the last V2 rockets - the doodlebugs - destroyed both the adjacent Regent Square Presbyterian Church and the central offices of the then Presbyterian Church of England. You may recall that these rockets travelled faster than the speed of sound, and the noise of their approach arrived after they had hit. On the plaque in Church House are the names of the General Secretary and most the staff, who all died at their desks. Passing that plaque every day was a salutary reminder of how war affects us all, even those who were seemingly so far removed from it.
I’d like to share one other memory with you. I was always puzzled, the church at Rugby in which I grew up, that the Communion silver was engraved with “Notting Hill Presbyterian Church”. When I was a little older I was told the story that there had been a particular concentration of Presbyterian churches in London, and that they had been especially badly affected by the bombing in the blitz. Instead of rebuilding the churches in the city centre, the Presbyterian Church of England used the money - from the War Damage Commission - to found new churches in the commuter towns around London. Artefacts from the bombed churches were distributed to those new churches, and we in Rugby received the Communion silver from the former Notting Hill church. Thus whenever we celebrated Holy Communion - only every two months - were we always reminded of the link with the war.
So today, as we celebrate Holy Communion on Remembrance Sunday, we are linking together the sacred and the secular. But, even more than that, they are intrinsically linked at a much deeper level. In his words at the last supper Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me”. There is a very particular word in Greek for this: anamnesis. It means not remembering something in the past, but actually making present in the here and now. It is the calling to mind which is making something real, bringing some¬thing to reality. In our Communion service we remember Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection, but not just as an event in the past. We make that remembrance not just a recollection, or a calling to mind, but some real, here and now, as we link the offering of Christ to our offering of bread and wine and to Christ’s risen presence with us through our breaking and sharing bread, and through our pouring and sharing wine.
Likewise, we remember those who have died in war. Not just those who have died on active service, but the civilians and the wider community, but not just as recollection or a calling to mind. What we are also doing, is helping to make real our act of remembrance today by looking and working for the peace of the world. When Jesus’ peace takes hold of the human soul, the urge to kill and destroy will die. In the peace which Jesus offers lies a whole new future for humanity. What we are doing today helps to bring that future to come to pass. So may it be.