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Remembrance 2018: Remembering the fallen

Written by John Hawke, posted on Thursday, November 8, 2018

Since 2014 we have been marking the centenary of the First World War in a variety of ways, not least through remembering in our worship the names and biographies of the fallen of Christ Church - college servants and undergraduates alike - on the anniversary of their deaths. This year, as we approach the centenary of the Armistice, a number of contributiors have come together to reflect on the theme of Remembrance, and the ways in which we honour the fallen here at Christ Church Cathedral.

 

It would be difficult for Christ Church to take the Remembrance season anything but seriously. Many churches contain memorials and plaques for the fallen – generally but not exclusively from the World Wars – but Christ Church has this ‘writ large’.

Anyone who enters the cathedral will walk past the floor-to-ceiling plaques of the college’s casualties of war, and all who come for quiet prayer will be directed to the Remembrance Chapel, surrounded by emblems from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. It will probably not be surprising to know that the names of the fallen are read out at our morning Eucharists on the anniversaries of their deaths.

Yet, partly for being so ‘writ large’, it is easy for these practices to become routine and, worse, lacking in depth and purpose. To prevent this, perhaps we should take a second to reflect on why we remember in such a manner.

Originally, the reading of names could be a comfort to those who mourned, in the knowledge that their fallen friends and relatives did not die in vain. However, many of the names that we read now are just that: names. Few, if anybody at all, can recall the faces, voices, personalities, or anything else about those people anymore. Should these names still take up some precious seconds of our time at the morning Eucharist?

The answer, of course, is emphatically yes. However, this is not primarily for theological reasons. The reading of the names of the fallen is not a form of prayer for the dead in a pre-Reformation sense, because we do not believe that those who have died are in purgatory. When they have died, it is only God who can judge where and in what manner they will spend eternity, and we cannot plead on their behalf.

But this is not to say that the theological context is irrelevant. We can honour their sacrifice from a Christian perspective, as something that the Bible celebrates. Indeed, it was St John who wrote, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. However, there is a much wider significance to uttering the names of the brave forgotten.

And it is precisely that: that their ‘forgotten’ names will never be forgotten. To prevent this becoming another vague platitude, we must remember why, and for what, these people died. Only with this in mind can the true importance of remembering them be grasped.

Indeed, these servicemen died for our monarch and country. What does that mean? It means that they died for our freedom and our liberties. Primarily, they died for the principles of respect for the individual and charity for the needy that Britain has embodied in one way or another for centuries.

Therefore, if we were to forget the names of those who died, and thus drain their deaths of any meaning in the present, we would by extension drain these fantastic principles of any meaning at all. Liberties would be worth losing, and freedom would be worth forgetting. Those few seconds of remembrance at each morning Eucharist have more value than we might give them credit for.

However long ago, a sacrifice made for principles that we consider fundamental to our national character is a sacrifice that we should consider as important as those principles themselves. These sacrifices are worth remembering as much as those liberties and principles are worth enjoying.

 

John Hawke is a History student at Christ Church, and College Sacristan of the Cathedral. As a bursar in the Royal Navy, he will enter basic training in September 2019 after completing his degree, and hopes to become a Warfare Officer.

 

 

 

Our blog posts are written by a range of writers and reflect their personal views. Publication should not necessarily be read as endorsement by the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church.