REMEMBERING THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE
Joshua 24:1-3, 14-18, Psalm 78, Matthew 25:1-13
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY, 1996, by Tad Mitsui
Today we are honouring those men and women who died in the wars by remembering their sacrifices. Remembrance is an important lifesaving instinct for many living organisms. Cows do not cross an electrified fence, because they remember what happened the first time they touched it. If we do not learn from our past experience, we will not survive the future. Winston Churchill once said, "One who forgets history is condemned to repeat it." This is also why remembering Christ”s sacrifice is a very important part of Christian spirituality and the core of the sacrament of Holy Communion. By remembering God”s saving act in Jesus Christ, we live with assurance today and continue to live with confidence tomorrow.
The act of remembrance must be played out in three time zones; past, present and future.
First: We have to look the past straight in the eyes, and recognize what it is as it is. We must not sugar-coat it to make the horror of history palatable, neither must we exaggerate it in order to demonize it. We must not remember those who sacrificed their lives in the wars in any other way than by remembering how cruel their deaths were and how brave they were. We must thank those who risked or sacrificed their lives, mourn with their families who lost their loved ones, and promise that we will never repeat the same mistake, which may cause the same tragedy.
Secondly; by recognizing the awful nature of wars, we must learn to find a way to resolve the differences and problems in our lives and in our relationships in a peaceful way, instead of fighting over them. This is the challenge for today. We must give up the idea that there has to be a winner and a loser when there is a difference of opinions or a conflict of interests. History teaches us over and over again that violence never resolves a conflict completely, because the loser never forgets to come back for revenge. The horror of Bosnia is an act of revenge by a loser in the Ottoman Empire. Near genocide in Rwanda is an act of revenge by Hutus against the Tutsuis who ruled them brutally for many years. The means to resolve a conflict must be peaceful not violent, because violence always begets violence.
Thirdly: the memory of the past must also affect our attitude towards the future. The scripture today speaks of ten bridesmaids waiting for the arrival of a wedding party. It was getting late. One interpreter of the Bible suggests that the final negotiations about the amount of dowry often took place just before the reception. It often took some time to reach an agreement, as you can imagine. The job of bridesmaids was, of course, to accompany the bride and groom into the reception hall, in this case holding lamps to light up the passage. Five of them had spare oil, just in case. Five of them did not have spare oil, because they had not remembered the importance of carrying extra. So when they went out to look for a store to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived and the reception began without them.
What does "having spare oil" have to do with Remembrance Day? The memory of the past must teach us the way to prepare for our peaceful future. The oil of preparedness in this case is respect for others. If we respect others, we will never run out of patience to talk things over no matter how difficult the issues are. You never know; after lots of time talking, you may even end up liking the other people, whom you could have been tempted to fight because of some differences. Respect becomes a source of light to guide us through the darkness of disagreements.
So as I said at the beginning, remembrance is something that crosses 3 time zones. We remember the sacrifices of the past for the sake of the present and for the future, just like we remember the cross of Jesus Christ. Lest we forget.