From the Vicarage - November 2017

Putting it back together

‘All the King’s horses and all the King’s men / Couldn’t put Humpty together again.’ The last two lines of a nursery rhyme that I can still remember from my childhood. It emphasises the fragility of life. Once again, we seem to be living in an age in which people feel increasingly vulnerable to potential threats to lives and property. Terrorist violence has become an altogether too frequent feature of news bulletins, and recent devastating storms and earthquakes have, if anything, wreaked even more havoc around the world. These events are still far more likely to occur elsewhere than in the UK, but they are not unknown here too. It is of the nature of both natural disasters and violence caused by aggressive human hatred, that they are unpredictable and might happen to anyone anywhere.


I say ‘once again’, because the possibility of death or serious injury from violent causes, although largely absent from Western Europe for over seventy years – a longer time of peace than ever before in history – was a very real part of the lives of both my parents’ and my grandparents’ generations. My father, and his father, both served in the forces in the Second and First World Wars respectively. Thankfully, my own family remained unscathed by death or serious physical injury (one of my uncles would now have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder), but many families suffered the extreme pain and anguish of both, sometimes multiple times. In the 1939-45 war, the destruction of civilian populations by aerial bombing became a common feature of ‘total war’, bringing the front line right into towns and villages.

I’ve begun this piece with a reminder of how the pendulum of history can swing, because this month of November, as we move deeper into the dark side of the year, is traditionally a time for remembering. ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November’, is another memory from my childhood, not so frequently heard now perhaps. The ceremonial immolation of the Guy on top of the bonfire, accompanied by firework displays, is still a feature of this autumn festival, even if the intense anti-Catholic sentiment that it commemorates, is now, thankfully, no longer a living memory. More significantly in terms of recent history are the acts of remembrance in which we take part on Remembrance Sunday and often separately on 11th November, the anniversary of the armistice  that ended the First World War.

There is now no-one alive who was more than a very young child when that armistice was signed, and each year there are fewer left who served in the armed forces during the Second World War. But the collective memory of the former, and the actual memory in families today of the latter, is still strong and powerful, and comes to the fore in our formal acts of Remembrance. The Church too, remembers at this time of year. All Saints (which we celebrate this year on Sunday 5th November) commemorates all those holy men and women down the ages whose names or identity, we don’t know but whose lives we celebrate; All Souls which usually follows (though we will mark it formally in church at the 9.30 Eucharist on Friday 3rd November), is the day when we remember all Christian people gathered across the ages into the Communion of Saints. The names of all those we wish particularly to remember will be read at the Eucharist on 3rd November – a list to enter those dear to you will be in church by the time you read this. In the afternoon of Sunday 5th November, we will hold a Service of Remembering and Thanksgiving where we simply and quietly remember, pray and light candles. 

The King’s horses and the King’s men couldn’t put the fragments of Humpty Dumpty back together, but the very act of conscious memory, bring back into the forefront of our minds those we have known who through natural or unnatural causes, have passed out of our sight, and out of our daily lives. In this sense we re-member – we put back together what time has dispersed.         The re-membering of those loved ones, the fabric of whose lives have been dis-membered by death, is a vital part of our own identity as persons not separate and alone, but part of families and communities. Re-membering helps us to do what the men and the horses of the king could not, and ‘put together again’ the lives of those we love and miss, restoring them in our minds and imaginations and reminding us that there is continuity from one generation to another, and that we are part of that. 

Our faith in the God of our ancestors, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, active through the work of the Holy Spirit, teaches us and helps us to remember that God remembers. The presence of God and his creative energy fills the universe, encompassing time and eternity, all that has, is or ever will be, in his eternal memory. We also know that as we live longer lives, some older people sadly outlive their own capacity to remember. But God remembers us and holds our memory in his deep memory. We can be sure that in His    eternal   kingdom, our dis-membered lives are re-membered and put back together again. 

Yours ever in Christ 

Fr Paul




From the Vicarage
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