Human memory is faulty at best, and can conjure up rather embarrassing moments – I think of a minister, who while on holiday attended the church of a famous preacher. Part way through the sermon this preacher announced: “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife” – the impact was immediate – heads shot up (some wakened from slumber) faces filled with astonishment, then he continued: “And she was my mother”…. What a great attention-getter thought the visiting minister, I must try that back home. So the following Sunday, midway through his sermon he suddenly exclaimed: “I want you to know that the best years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife” – the congregation was galvanised, heads came up, eyes were riveted on him in expectation. Then memory struck, his mind went utterly blank, and after what seemed an eternity he went on: “and for the life of me, I can’t remember who she was….!”  So embarrassing, and very humorous.

But memory can also terrorise.  Norman was in his sixties, he’d served in the British forces during World War II. He was troubled by frequent panic attacks and various other severe psychological disorders. I sat with him many hours, seeking to help him, to bring comfort, but it was as though a dark band gripped his mind & wouldn’t let go. Eventually he did open up, and was able to share his horror story, of how during an operation he’d been confronted by an enemy soldier, and in that one-on-one encounter had shot his opponent dead. This scenario, like a video on repeat, now played over and over in his mind, and in the absence of any help after the war ended, became firmly embedded in his psyche, rising up both day and night, in waking and in sleeping, to haunt and to taunt him.

Yes, although it’s an amazing gift, memory can be either like a best friend, or a worst enemy. Its unpredictability, especially in our latter years, necessitates frequent prompts or reminders.

Now aids to memory are the subject of many Bible passages, where they are deliberately built into the structure of life within two great world religions, Judaism & Christianity. For example:

1) The Passover of the Jews. Jewish life-style included the setting aside of specific days/seasons for acts of remembrance. Holy Days, Special Feasts called for remembrance of special events in their history – including the Passover (a celebration of the end to 400 years of slavery in Egypt). A frequent injunction reads: “take care … lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” going on to say,  “Make them known to your children and your children’s children” – the account of that night of all nights was to be passed on to succeeding generations – never to be forgotten.

2   2)  The Passion of Jesus. At the institution of the Last Supper, (which significantly coincided with the Jewish Passover) as Jesus offered bread & wine to His disciples, there is a repetition of the words: “this do in remembrance of me”. Nowadays, Christian churches of all flavours, remember these words, while re-enacting the sacramental aspect of the Last Supper, offering bread & wine to adherents, under various ‘names’ & in differing forms, ALL intentionally calling to mind the sufferings of Christ – his betrayal and death on the Cross. It’s part of the very rhythm of their weekly or monthly cycles. 

For all of us here today, this Remembrance Service stands as a vital aid to memory, and is an essential part of our national identity, featuring prominently on our calendar of annual events. We call to mind respectfully those fallen heroes of the British services, who in conflicts spanning 100 years, and during the course of serving our nation made the ultimate sacrifice – losing their life. So it is right that we remember in this way, it is fitting that we honour them, it is appropriate that we offer support to remaining family members, whose lives have been affected by the tragedy of their loss, so as never to be the same again – and which is why we have the Poppy Appeal.

It is also essential to take our children and children’s children aside and tell them the stories, seeking to impart an understanding of the COST of the liberties and lifestyle we enjoy today – and with the hope and prayer that they will never be called on to go through the trauma of conflict, in the same way. Also, for those especially who remember fallen loved ones or colleagues, it is necessary through this service of prayer & remembrance to draw down help from God, who is the Rock of Ages, our refuge and strength in troubled times.