Sermon : Leusdon and Buckland 12th November 2017

John 15.7-17

Do you remember when you first acquired your first computer; or may be you have shunned one altogether and felt that you have got on with life perfectly well without one and vowed never to have one? My first one was in the early nineties – an Amiga Commodore I believe. With its floppy disk drive, DOS based software and bulky form it sat there and glowered at me; this alien monster from across the pond that threatened my comfortable existence. Gradually we seemed to get the better of it and changed it for a bigger and better one. And then just when I thought I was coming to terms with its infuriating ways it said it couldn’t perform my commands to it because it didn’t have enough RAM.

But just a minute I thought I had bought the biggest, the best and the latest version, and not knowing what RAM was anyway, why should it need any more? Eventually things improved and later versions came out that seemed to have enough RAM and bytes and memory to do what you wanted them to do. And the whole thing became much more refined with a flat screen and access to the Internet and e-mails and so on; developing into what is now the standard equipment for most households and offices. I guess it’s today’s equivalent of the telephone of the thirties and forties when most households were coming to terms with the necessity of having a phone.

For the unitiated, RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It denotes the ability of the computer to gain access to data or programs stored on the computer’s hard-drive, and as it were, pull them out from the computer’s memory store to be used by the operator. It is distinct from the ability of a computer to store data or programs, which unsurprisingly, is called memory, counted these days in the number of megabytes, gigabytes or terabytes.

In this, computers to some extent mirror the human brain. As we get older our memory actually doesn’t fade: what deteriorates is the ability of the brain to retrieve what’s there. All those little pathways to the memory store, become blocked, fade away or disintegrate, as I understand it. We call it loss of short term memory and it manifests itself in forgetting names, places, people or what you did just now or why you have gone upstairs. The memory is still there because you can remember as it was yesterday what happened forty, fifty, sixty years ago but the RAM for recent events is not enough: you need more RAM.

Today is a day for access to memory but for most of us who were born before, or during the last war we probably have enough RAM to bring the images, the words, the sounds, back to life, sometimes very vividly, often with shocking realism. For others we have equally vivid accounts, films, books, recordings, pictures TV to rely on. For me born after the last war, I have to rely on these. I am sure they are no substitute for first hand experience but they are nonetheless frightening and shocking. Young men in their late teens climbing into flying coffins that were Bomber Command; gruelling and frightening hours spent on North Atlantic convoys about to be blown up at any moment by U-boats; a devout Jewish family being sent to Dachau; women working in the factories for long hours providing armaments. These and countless acts of bravery and patriotism which will never be known about, show how enormously privileged we are to live in the free society that we do today.

Christianity is a remembrance religion. It goes back before time began. “I am that I am ” says God in Genesis. We remember Abraham who was told by God that he would be the father of many nations. We remember Moses and the other patriarchs. We remember Isaiah and Amos and the other prophets continually exhorting God’s chosen people to return to worship God and not mammon. And we remember Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The very essence of our Eucharist is a memorial meal. “Do this ” we say, “in remembrance that Christ died for you and be thankful ”. “Calling to mind his death upon the cross... ” says Prayer B in Common Worship. And what do we sing in the words of the Magnificat in the B C P. “He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel

What did Christ say about remembrance and tradition? He undoubtedly respected the law and the body of writings of the Scribes as well as the Law handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. He told his disciples in plain terms that he came to complete the Law not to destroy it. But when pointless ritual, usage and tradition, yes tradition, got in the way his father’s love for humankind, he had no hesitation in condemning it. He would have been seen today as a dangerous subversive, a radical, an iconoclast and that of course is why he was put to death. He so threatened the Establishment with love that they couldn’t take it. You couldn’t have some itinerant preacher healing on the Sabbath, loving your enemies, riding in victory on a donkey. He had to go!

So there is a tension, a conflict even, between the call of tradition and of scripture and the call of reason and of the Holy Spirit. Do we follow tradition because we believe that it contains the eternal truths as framed by the early Christian Fathers and is therefore immutable? Or is it a strait jacket preventing the Holy Spirit and reason liberating us to witness and worship in 2017? It seems to me right to consider such tensions on this Sunday, Remembrance Sunday.

It is also absolutely right to remember those who gave their lives, their limbs, their eyes, their children, their spouses, their sanity, that we may live a free life. As we are often reminded in John’s Gospel “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends ”. John 15. But that ultimate sacrifice “…the dearest and the best, that lies upon the altar, the love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test…”; that sacrifice is a waste, if life is not improved thereby. If as Christians we are held back in proclaiming the Gospel by being shackled to a tradition that impedes us and by failing to learn from the past, then we must seriously question those traditions. It is said that the one thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history.

On this Remembrance Sunday, we must remember and honour those who have died for us and let us continue to do so. And as Anglicans let us remember our fine traditions, our beautiful buildings and our rich liturgy. But let us also remember that these are resources, not tramlines, a base not a completed structure.

At the end of Holy Communion in contemporary language we sometimes say “Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. ” Let us mean that today, urgently prepared and ready to meet Our Lord so that it can be said of us is “The one thing we learn from Christians is Christianity.

Jeremy Howell

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