November 10, 2003

Remembrance Sunday

It is US, it was originally called Armistice Day, but since 1954 it has been called Veterans Day. It's a rather low-key public holiday. In some places there may be Veterans Day parades, but for the most part, it is just another Monday when the mail doesn't get delivered.

In the UK it is not the Monday that is important, but the Sunday. It is called Remembrance Sunday -- the Sunday closest to the 11th of November. The focus is not on the veterans, but on the war dead.

It is so important that the Queen shows up every year at the Cenotaph - the war memorial in the middle of Whitehall (the street running from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square) - to lay a wreath. And every member of the Royal Family lays a wreath, as do the Prime Minister, the leaders of the major opposition parties, the High Commissioners of all the Commonwealth countries, and the representatives of each branch of the Armed Forces. Then thousands of veterans march past, grouped by their various associations, and a representative of each hands over a wreath to placed next to the monument.

The ceremony is shown live every year on BBC1. I watched it this year for the first time. Though the day was originally set aside to honour the dead of the First World War, it had been ten years since veterans of that conflict had been able to attend to pay tribute to their fallen comrades.

This year, 3 of the remaining 27 British WWI veterans were able to attend. Precedent was broken to accommodate them, as motor vehicles have never been allowed as part of the parade. However, at the ages of 107, 104, and 102, they were not really up to the walk down Whitehall, so they were driven in a 1911 Austin, which itself was a sight to behold.

The oldest of the group - in fact, the oldest living WWI veteran - Henry Allingham could have represented any of the three services, as he was a part of all of them. He repesented the air service, because he was there when the RAF was born. He saw action on land, at sea, and in the air. He was involved famous battles in each capacity. He participated in the Jutland, the Somme, and Ypres.

Though I thought about the thousands of servicemen who gave their lives, I was very moved by the old and infirm veterans of the Second World War, the Korean War, and other conflicts. It was important enough for them to travel to London, stand out in the weather for a long time while the first part of the ceremony took place, and then march past the Cenotaph.

Whenever the subject of remembrance arises, there is the inevitable comparison with the Eucharist. This is not a bad thing. It is, after all, the remembrance of all remembrances. Certainly it is applicable when thinking of those who have made the "ultimate sacrifice", because the ultimate ultimate sacrifice was the One who "was given up, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world."

This is where it demonstrates to me how little I truly appreciate the Eucharist. If I'm able to get weepy-eyed at watching old men walk past a stone memorial in praise of the noble, but earthly, deeds of men, how much more should I be moved by the remembrance of the saving act of the eternal God, who even allows me to participate through the sacrifice of praise in His Body and Blood.

In the UK, great honour is accorded those who fought the Kaiser and the Fuhrer. In defeating the latter, they were saved from subordination to one of the most evil regimes in history. Yet how easily we forget that in the Cross and Resurrection, we were saved from a far worse fate than the Third Reich. We were delivered from the Evil One himself. We were saved from the Second Death.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, let us remember those who gave their lives for King and Country. But let us make every Sunday a Remembrance Sunday and every day a Remembrance Day for the King of Glory who gave Himself up for us.

Posted by david at November 10, 2003 09:25 PM | TrackBack