With Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day almost upon us, I have found myself in a strange headspace. I feel torn between honouring those who have paid the greatest price in conflict, and protesting against such conflicts. It's like I want to remember those who have died, but want to forget how and why they died, if you know what I mean. After all, there is something noble, godly, even, about pacifism. But many have fought for peace, and maybe that's right too.
It occurred to me today, though, that remembrance of someone's ultimate sacrifice is biblical. Jesus told his disciples, at the Last Supper, "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19 - I don't usually quote from the King James Version, but sometimes you just have to...). Jesus gave himself to the world and for the world. But at the same time, he was taken, brutalised, abused, by oppressive and corrupt systems and forces (the religious authorities, the political powers and their enforcers).
I was drawn to that remembrance line as I pondered Remembrance. I was reminded of what Elvis Costello said of his (in my opinion) greatest track, Oliver's Army:
"I made my first trip to Belfast in 1978 and saw mere boys walking around in battle dress with automatic weapons. They were no longer just on the evening news. These snapshot experiences exploded into visions of mercenaries and imperial armies around the world. The song was based on the premise 'they always get a working class boy to do the killing'. I don't know who said that; maybe it was me, but it seems to be true nonetheless. I pretty much had the song sketched out on the plane back to London."
He's right. Most of those who have lost their lives in the armed services in conflict have been from the working class. They have often been sacrificed by oppressive, corrupt systems and forces (politicians, elites, ideologues and ideologies, economies, empires...).
When Jesus suffered the full force of these structures and powers, he called them by name and disarmed them, scorning and mocking them. Perhaps our fallen do the same of the powers and structures, and of war itself. Therefore, we will remember them and their sacrifice, each one a protest and indictment against war and the machinery behind it.
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