One Hundred Years of Memory

by Barry Yager

This year marks the 100thanniversary of the Armistice which ended the First Great War. As I prepare to bow my head on that significant occasion, I wonder how the corporate memory of Canadians will observe Remembrance Day in coming years. Will it fade away as many of our war veterans also pass on? Many are pledged to never forget, but will their influence wane?

All together, 2,300,000 persons, most of them very young, stepped forth to defend Canada and its ideals in time of war. 118,000 never came back. During World War I, one out of every thirteen persons in our then small nation went abroad to war. In 1939-45 the ratio was an astounding one-in-ten. There are now some 638,300 veterans and currently serving military members among us. These are some of the facts, but as Albert Einstein said: “Any fool can know; the point is to understand.” How do I understand the significance of this?

To reflect on Remembrance Day is to draw on the power of memory. In doing so we recall the experience and bring it into our present. Who has attended a Remembrance Day service or some other solemn memorial event and not shed a tear? The value of remembering is in learning lessons, affirming our values and honouring the sacrifices of others. Occasions of solemn memory are invitations to readjust our attitudes, modify our thinking and apply lessons learned to deal with the uncertainties tomorrow will bring.

One key to understanding past tragedy and ravages of war, I am sure, centres around the word “sacrifice”. Christians highly value this because it is through the great sacrifice of Jesus that we have seen the extent of God’s love for us and his redemptive power. Through the constant awareness of God’s grace we are more attuned to recognize, honour and appreciate the efforts of others on our behalf. Therefore, I need to be aware and appreciative of sacrifices made in the past and be reminded that they could be required in the future.

Inherent in Remembrance Day is our focus on people. Were I to list and lament the tremendous expense of dollars, and loss of tanks, jeeps, ships and airplanes and other equipment of war you would rightly think me a fool. No one counts the losses in those terms, because the currency by which we measure our losses is written on every cenotaph and memorial in villages, and towns and cities throughout Canada. Their names represent sons and daughters, husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and neighbours. Each a precious person in the eyes of the Lord. I want to understand this human element in today’s world which seems increasingly preoccupied with a better deal, the best price and identity politics tending to denigrate and divide people.

Therefore, I want to understand what this focus means as I respond to people and issues with fairness and respect so as to honourably agree or disagree, while being true to my God. I need the help of God’s inspiration as is written in Proverbs 3:3,5; ”Let love and faithfulness never leave you; Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

This Remembrance Day I will be praying: “O Lord help me to remember and appreciate the sacrifices of others, not in the least Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and grant me your understanding, grace and wisdom to face challenges in the future, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Barry Yager is a retired CBOQ pastor and was a chaplain with twenty years service in the Canadian Armed Forces.

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