Do you wonder why you think about what you think about? It’s a good question. Part of the answer could lie in another question–Why do you remember what you remember?
November is Remember Month here in the UK. It’s an apt time of the year, remembering all that has now become part of a waning year. It is summer’s true end, the closing down and sweeping up of memories like scattered leaves. Daylight recedes along with the earth’s warmth and we are eager for the glow of a fire and the telling of a story. Remembrance in a story is as old as time itself.
November Remembrance is usually associated with those who died in battle. But this year’s November remembrances actually began on the 31st October, All Hallow’s Eve. It was the 500th anniversary celebration of the official beginning of the Reformation when Martin Luther boldly posted his 95 theses. We remember all that followed, the Bible made available to the common man in his own language, the suffering of those who died for their faith in grace alone, and the price still paid in lives today where Christian faith is a dangerous thing.
The story of the Church in Europe is so bloody and so horrific it’s hard to fathom the celebratory nature of Bonfire Night. Remember, remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, treason, and plot… On this day around 400 years ago, a guy named Guy and his Catholic co-conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament and kill the Protestant James I in the process. Tables had been turned and it was now the Catholics who were being hunted down, tortured and murdered. Depending on what side of the religious fence ruled the day, anyone on the opposite side was considered a traitor. Guy was caught, of course, charged with treason, and subjected to disembowelling among other things. Did he really think he was going to get away with it? I am continually amazed at how many of these rebels risked–and got–this brutal form of execution. On the 5th of November, we are reminded of it every year in the UK. I was horrified to find out Ian’s classroom was given all the graphic gory details–when he was seven years old! With delight then, effigies referred to as “guys” are burned in blazing bonfires while fireworks, representing those that never carried off the king and the House of Parliament, explode fabulously across the country.
Why do we remember a failed terrorist named Guy Fawkes among so many others? Is it the spectacular audacity of his plan? Or just an excuse for something to brighten up an otherwise cold, dark November night? I rather suspect it is the latter. But there is something of the anti-establishment celebration in it, knowing it’s all legal and nobody’s going to be hanged, drawn and quartered for it!
Remembering gives us parameters–supposedly. If we remember the wrongs of the past, then hopefully we will prevent them from happening again. That is the poignancy and heartbreak of Remembrance Day. Today, the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour nearly a century ago, the Armistice was signed to end “the war to end all wars.” The senseless loss of an entire generation of young men barely out of their teens to the chaos of the First World War was never to be repeated. But a mere generation later, it was. Dunkirk and D-Day replaced the Battle of the Somme and Paschendaele. And a generation after that, Americans sent their young to die in the jungles of Viet Nam in a war as senseless as the trenches of WWI.
We remember, but we do not change.
Perhaps that is the point of remembering–lest we forget how fallen we are, how war and acts of violence will always be a part of us, and how badly we are in need of grace and redemption. We remember sacrifice because there is no greater gift than the laying down of a life. It humbles us and out of that humbling should come a sheer, colossal gratitude. We live in an era of unparalleled freedom in the Western world. We are free to worship on whatever side of the fence we choose. Our sons are not being shipped off by the thousands to die in wars not of their choosing. We can voice disapproval of our government without being thrown into prison for it. After all, remember that childhood taunt, “It’s a free country!”
Grace and gratitude go hand in hand. For Americans, November is also the month of Thanksgiving. I love that it comes at the end of the month, just before the Advent of Christmas. It’s a day meant for gathering together and remembering the cornucopia of blessings we live with throughout the year before asking for more blessings under the Christmas tree. Now, Thanksgiving is almost a blip with stores competing for Christmas shoppers weeks ahead. Do we even know why we are remembering to be thankful?
The gospel tells the story of ten lepers who came to Jesus for healing, but only one remembered to turn back and thank him. Perhaps the others wanted to put as much distance between their clean selves and their broken selves as possible. But if we mainly remember because of fear and suffering, or even just obligation, we miss out on remembering in the spirit of gratitude. Thankfulness is meant to be a source of healing and even joy.
Jesus said to the tenth leper, who was a despised Samaritan, ” ‘Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’ ”
I love that I have so many special friends who have November birthdays. In remembering them all, I realise how each of them has had to face personal battles of various kinds. So to all of you, Marie, Leslie, Ann, Janie, and Cathy, I would say, “Thank you for the light of your friendship, past and present. Remember Jesus’ words, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’ When you remember to praise Him for His faithfulness, you are well indeed.
Finally, this November 19th, the baby boy I thought I would never have, turns 21. My thanks for the gift of this beloved son knows no bounds. “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Remembrance which is constant in praise overcomes all that is lost and painful and keeps us close to the heart of God.