In modern liturgical practice, this time of year is known as the Season of Remembrance. It begins with All Saints Day on November 1st, includes All Souls and Remembrance Sunday and takes us up to Advent. On first appearance, then, there is a sharp contrast between this season and the one that follows it. Remembrance is about looking back and recalling times past, while Advent looks forward to the future and the Second Coming of Christ that will usher in the fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose for creation.
It may come as a surprise, therefore, to discover that the readings set for Remembrance Sunday are not backward looking at all. On the contrary, they all look forward. In the Old Testament lesson, Job looks with longing to the time when, despite all his sufferings and the doubts and questions of his friends, he will finally be vindicated by God. St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, describes in vivid terms the moment when the “last trumpet” shall sound and we shall all be changed, from mortal to immortal, thanks to the victory God has given us in Christ. In the very short Gospel passage, Jesus himself refers, twice, to “the last day”, and the final consummation of all that the Father has willed for the world and for humanity. But if all these readings point to the future, what makes them appropriate for Remembrance?
One answer is this. The Season of Remembrance does invite us to look back -- at the lives of the saints whose exceptional work and witness is our inheritance, at the existence of innumerable, ordinary, undistinguished souls who followed Christ as faithfully as they could, and on this Sunday in particular, all the people caught up in wars and conflicts who were called to endure great hardships and make great sacrifices. But the Season of Remembrance also invites us to see all that is past within the cosmic sweep of God’s unfolding purpose, uniquely revealed in Christ. In this way it prepares us for the coming Season of Advent when we focus on the completion of that purpose.
To look far back into human history while simultaneously looking forward to a future grounded, not in our own powers of prediction, but in God’s promise, should bring the present into proper perspective. Every generation has a tendency to think that what matters most now, is what matters most. We are no exception. Social division, racial tension, political election and a public health crisis, have all greatly dominated our lives lately. It is easy to think, as many have said, that these are ‘unprecedented times’. Remembrance and Advent, however, invite us to reject this description and affirm afresh that all such things fall within the long trajectory of God’s creative purpose.
Our times are no more ‘unprecedented’ than were those of Job or Paul. God says to Adam in the Garden, ‘You are dust, and unto dust you will return’, and at the start of Lent we take the opportunity to remind ourselves that this salutary truth applies to us also. As the Psalm appointed for this Sunday affirms, in God’s sight “a thousand years are as the passing of a single day”. Elevating the present over the past, or the future, inevitably leads to misguided destruction. Examples are not far to seek. The world-wide conflict heralded as ‘the war to end all wars’ proved, alas, to be the breeding ground for another conflict with still more terrible consequences.
The Season of Remembrance, then, gives us space in which to renew the belief captured in one of J S Bach’s cantatas -- ‘God’s time is the very best time’.
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