Silence is a rare commodity in our multimedia, online, 24-7 world. And yet this week, in church services, at village memorials, in open plan offices and on busy streets across the nation, silence falls for two precious minutes. A few short moments to join in a collective act of remembrance.
But why do we remember?
Is it out of a sense of duty – a moral act that we simply know to be the right and proper thing to do? Is it sentimentality – a fondness for the past, or a yearning for a return to a bygone era? Is it regret – a way to mourn past mistakes and loss? Is it pride – glorifying past victories, a chance to stand tall? Or do we remember to honour the courage and sacrifices of those who have fought for their country?
At different times, in different places, as the unfamiliar sound of silence washes over us, any one of these reasons may come to the fore. But I think there’s another reason too, that in many ways is the most important reason of all…
We remember the past, because it shines a light on the present.
After all, war is not confined to the past.
There are currently around 30 live conflicts continuing around the world, with many of thousands of people dying every month. And most of these will never make it onto our TV screens.
The lessons and the mistakes that led to the Great War of 1914-1918 continue to be made in the present. The same human traits that led to the conflicts we remember – greed, selfishness, pride, and lust for power – continue to fuel the conflicts experienced today.
And war isn’t confined to somewhere else.
The same distortions of God’s created order that lead to conflict between nations lead to conflict between families, neighbours, and communities. The brokenness we witness on the world stage is just another outworking of the same brokenness in the lives of countless individuals struggling through conflict in the very homes, offices, or churches where we stand united in silent remembrance.
In remembering the past and the experiences of others, we are confronted by the realities of our own present and the choices we make.
Each one of us is brimming with potential. Made in the image of God, we are creative and powerful creatures, able to change the world around us. Through the choices we make, we can choose to be defined by the same brokenness that 100 years ago, and in every year since, has led to conflict and suffering all around the world.
Or, in God’s strength and by his healing power, we can overcome our brokenness. We can become heirs to the ordinary heroes of war, showing valour, courage, and compassion, willing to make sacrifices for what we know is right.
So, this year, in those two minutes of silence, let’s allow even the darkest of times past to illuminate our present day.