Sermons & services

Sermon for Trinity XXII

Published Monday 6th Nov. 2023, at 8:55 a.m.

November, the month of Remembrance; Sunday 5th November 2023.

If my memory serves me right, I think it was Thomas Hood who wrote:

No sun - no moon! No morn - no noon No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member - No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds - NOVEMBER!

Oh dear! The sheer weight of negation, the repeated "no", the dreariness of it all, seems somehow to sum up the month of November – not my favourite month. Thomas Hood also gave us another well-known poem:

I remember, I remember, The house where I was born, The little window where the sun Came peeping in at morn; He never came a wink too soon Nor brought too long a day, But now I often wish the night Had borne my breath away.

Many of those who cheerfully quote the first lines are probably not aware how mournful and November-ish the whole poem is. The poet, in his depression, looks back to events in the past with nostalgia - "I remember, I remember"- in an attempt to rekindle in the present some of the joys that illuminated the past for him. November is a bit like that. It is the month of remembrance.
We have seen the month begin joyfully enough with the commemoration of All Saints. We met then to give thanks for all the saints, known and unknown, who have no special day of their own in the Calendar. We remembered the example of holiness they gave us and asked God for grace to follow in their footsteps.
If there is such a thing as an anti-saint, then surely that great folk anti-hero, Guy Fawkes, must qualify. He has achieved canonization in the Calendar of folk memory. November is the month of remembrance for him too. In the past, children would chant a little rhyme when they importuned one for a penny for the Guy. They no longer seem to do this, because the ghastly import from America, ghouls and ghosties at Halloween has usurped this harmless form of highway robbery, but we all remember the rhyme:

Remember, remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot. We know no reason why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot.

Did you know that the jingle had a second verse?

A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope, A penn'orth of cheese to choke him, A barrel of beer to wash it down And a right good fire to roast him!

No quite the thing to sing in these ecumenical days, and, thank God, it is generally no longer the Pope we burn in effigy on our bonfires; but the smell of the fires that burned too terribly just outside the west end of our church has lingered long in the nostrils of many English men and women. Guy Fawkes Day may now be just a traditional, seasonal entertainment, but we must not forget that "No Popery" was once a guaranteed rallying cry, and it was an extremely vivid, corporate act of remembrance which gave it its potency. November is also the month for remembrance because the Sunday nearest to Armistice Day, the 11th, is kept in this country as Remembrance Sunday. This year it falls on the 12th, next Sunday, and you will observe it appropriately, I’m sure. Shortly in this service we are going to hear some words of Jesus at the Last Supper. As he took bread, blessed it and distributed it, he said, "Do this in remembrance of me." As he took the cup at the end of the meal, he blessed it and said, "Drink this in remembrance of me." What did he mean? Were the disciples seriously likely to forget him? Jesus had surely no need to ask his disciples, with whom he had shared so much, not to forget him! We do not celebrate the Eucharist - "the perpetual memory of his precious death, until his coming again" in order not to forget him. We do it for a much more positive reason. We do it to make real in the present a vital moment in the past. This special, powerful kind of remembering is known by its Greek name, anamnesis. As we have seen from Thomas Hood, Guy Fawkes Day and Remembrance Sunday, individual and corporate acts of remembrance are tremendously powerful. They can animate us, motivate us, increase our power for action. This is the kind of power we harness in the Eucharist. We make available for our use in the here and now that which Jesus offered his disciples in the Upper Room when they ate together for the last time. At the altar, we remember before God in this special way. We make anamnesis of Jesus's saving death and resurrection. It is a very active form of remembering in which we implore God to hear our prayers for the person, persons or causes we are remembering.
This remembering at the altar has always been the priestly duty of all Christians. One of the most touching illustrations of this age old custom comes from the pages of the Confessions of S. Augustine, where he tells of the death of his mother, S. Monica. Her last words to him are, "You may lay this body of mine anywhere. Do not worry at all about this. All I ask of you is this, that wherever you may be you will remember me at the altar of the Lord." In this month of remembrance this is exactly what we do. At the Commemoration of All Souls, on the 2nd of the month, it is a godly custom to read out a list of our departed loved ones, as a response to exactly the same request as that of S. Monica, “remember me at the altar of the Lord.” We pray, "Remember, Lord, those who have died and gone before us, marked with the sign of faith."
Finally, we are also privileged to use this special form of remembering for ourselves. We ask God to remember us as we live and work in this world. We ask him to use us in his service, to send us out in the power of his Spirit to live and work to his praise and glory. So let our prayer be ever this:

"Remember, O Lord, what thou hast wrought in us, and not what we deserve; and as thou hast called us to thy service, make us worthy of thy calling; through Jesus Chris