Who here has a poppy? Who can tell me why we wear poppies at this time of year? To help us to remember. Sometimes it is really helpful for us to have a physical thing to help us to remember. These things work best when they are part of the story, of the events that happened, and when they help us to remember some of the details. They help to make the thing we are remembering real for us today.
As I was thinking about remembrance and about the poppy, something struck me. The poppies that we wear have two halves, and it occurred to me that in some ways our memories can have two halves as well, a half of bad memories and a half of good memories. A half of things we remember because we never want them to happen again, and a half of things that we remember because they are a positive example for us.
When I was about nineteen I was driving a pick up truck up the M6 from Wolverhampton to Manchester. About half way through the journey I noticed a vibration in the vehicle, that slowly got worse. I called ahead to my workmate who was driving a drilling rig and we pulled onto the hard shoulder. We wandered around the pick up, couldn’t see anything wrong. We got back into the vehicles and drove off again. The vibration was much worse and two hundred yards later the off side rear wheel flew off, bounced across three lanes of motorway, ended up on the central reservation and the pick up slewed onto the hard shoulder. Thank God nobody was hurt, but I will always remember what it feels like to be driving a vehicle whose wheel is about to fall off. I remember because I do not ever want to experience it again. I wish I could say that I had one of those wheel nuts, stripped of all its thread. Maybe if it was hung from my rear view mirror it would make me a more careful driver.
A second reason that we remember is because we are proud of the people that were involved, that we want to honour them and look to them as an example. We’ve just enjoyed a fantastic summer of community and sporting events. I wonder which memories will stick with you. Who was at Cosford for the Queen’s Jubilee visit? Who went to one of the Olympic or Paralympic events? Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France, Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, Oscar Pistorius, Usain Bolt winning gold medals. Andy Murray in the Olympics and the US Open. The European Ryder Cup team coming back on the last day to beat the US. All things to remember with pride. I wonder if you’ve got mementoes from the summer, perhaps a Wenlock or Mandeville, a specially minted coin or stamps. Things that you will be able to show your children and tell them the story of the summer of 2012.
On a day like today, these two kinds or remembrance join together, just like the two petals of the poppy are joined together. We remember the dreadful nature of armed conflict and of war because we want to avoid it happening again. We want peace. We also remember the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of friends and of family, people that we love, that we are proud of, and whose example we like to think that we would follow.
As time passes from the events of the first and second world wars the number of those who remember those events from personal experience is falling. At the same time, sadly, the number of those who remember because of involvement in conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing. It is important to keep all of these memories alive by sharing our stories with the next generations. That is one of the reasons that is so good to have different generations here today, so that we can join together in remembering, and in committing ourselves to make peace and to live up to the positive example and courage of those who went before us.
All the way through the Bible we find the people of God being told to remember and to pass on the stories of their experience of God to their children and their children’s children. The reading that we have heard this morning is from one of the early church leaders, Paul, writing a letter to a group of Christians in the city of Corinth. He is reminding them of some of the last things that Jesus said to his friends before he died and rose again to life. Jesus told his followers to remember him, and he gave them a practical way of doing that. When they ate bread and drank wine together, they were to remember Jesus’ death and return to life. They were to remember the pain of that time, and also the courage and sacrifice of Jesus. They were to remember and they were to live in a way that showed that they remembered. They were to live lives of love, sacrifice, and courage.
On this Remembrance Sunday, with all its mixture of emotions, as we remember the suffering and cost of war, as we remember loved ones, let us also remember Jesus. We remember his sacrifice for us, and his call on us to live and work for peace, with the courage and strength that his victory over death gives us.