As usual Box Hill is ahead of its time
In most other churches (including St Mary’s, Headley) people are celebrating All Saints today. Because the 1st of November is All Saints’ Day – when we celebrate those important men and women who have formed our Church, our faith – many of whom died for that faith.
Strictly yesterday was All Saints Day so All Hallows’ Eve (or Halloween) fell on Friday and I got quite a fright on my way home from work – with hoards of young people dressed as the un-dead on their way to Halloween parties.
Some people get upset about this – my parents were always very anti-Halloween. The festival of sinners does indeed appear to have overtaken the festival of the Saints. All the fake blood of the ghosts and ghouls and zombies can be seen to disrespect the real blood of Flanders and other fields of Remembrance (as an aside I have always thought that Guy Fawkes fireworks are the last thing that veterans would want to hear at this time of remembering war)
But perhaps we have moved our All Saints Day from 1st November to 11th November
The martyrs of the first centuries of Christendom seem very distant when there are so many who have given their lives fighting for our freedom more recently
And we do remember the fallen – we read out their names – we keep silence – we pay respect
Those who have been watching Downton Abbey have seen the importance that people who had lost friends, relatives, loved ones attached to the building of the original war memorials
Now it is 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War – and we are still reading out their names and in so doing we keep them alive
It has been said you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.
Those in the Navy or with Naval connections have just celebrated Trafalgar Night – an annual dinner commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October, 1805 – on that occasion the toast to Lord Nelson is “The Immortal Memory”
The immortal memory – the saying of the name immortalises the man
This idea of immortalising the fallen has been passed on from the Navy and we have it now at Remembrancetide – when as we say on our memorials “their name liveth for evermore”
I was very aware of this last year when I stood here and read the names of the fallen
Now we have a new name to add to this list
That of Private Leonard Arthur Morley who was killed at Beaucamps-Ligney in Northern France on October 18, 1914 at the age of 22 while serving in 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment.
Private Morley was one of 15 soldiers whose bodies were found in 2009 in a field close to the village of Beaucamps-Ligney.
Following painstaking detective work his body was identified in March of this year after his DNA was matched with that of surviving relatives. His remains were reburied with full military honours at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Bois-Grenier near Lille on Wednesday 22nd October, 2014 almost exactly 100 years after he fell fighting in the early stages of the war.
Why Morley who was born in Box Hill and then moved to London was serving in a north country regiment remains to be discovered.
In time we hope to add his name to those on the memorial which stands outside St Andrew’s church.
And so Leonard Morley who was dead and buried and forgotten has in a sense come back to life.
We will say his name every year at this ceremony and he will become one of the immortal – those who shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.
And why is that important – why remember someone who has fallen over 100 years (or indeed 2,000) years ago
Why remember someone whose living relatives have never met him, may not even have heard of him – may never visit this memorial
Why do we remember? Why try to bring them back to life?
For Christian people this is not a new or surprising thought – because Jesus asked us to say his name and to remember him – and by remembering him keep him alive and keep his spirit alive.
So in a way which is reminiscent of the Christian rite of Holy Communion – when we remember the sacrifice of Jesus in a simple sharing of bread and wine – we say the names of the fallen to bring them back to life so we can appreciate their sacrifice afresh
So that they can remind us of the lessons which they learned
Why do we remember? We remember lest we forget
We remember their sacrifice so we do not forget to live our own lives – sacrificially – for others
We remember that they died fighting for peace so we do not forget to appreciate the peace and freedom of our own lives
We remember the futility, the utter barbarity of war so that we never let it happen again – so we do not forget to stand up and object when the egos of a few politicians would dictate the fate of millions
We remember that we should talk to the Germans and the Japanese, the Italians, the French, the Russians, the Iraqis, the Afghans, in time, perhaps, the Chinese – talk to them and understand them – not fight them. If we had been celebrating traditional All Saints Day our reading would be the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel – we would remember that Jesus taught us:
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:7-9)
So why do we remember? We remember lest we forget the lessons that they learned, and learned the hard way:
- The unending folly of man;
- The futility of war;
- The meaning of sacrifice; and
- The joy of peace
And so today we pray that they may rest in peace – but never be forgotten
Sermon given by Chris Hancock at St Andrew’s, Box Hill, 2nd November, 2014