On this day ...

Coventry Blitz

77 years ago this morning, the people of Coventry woke up to see the destruction of Operation Moonlight Sonata. In eleven hours, five hundred bombers had pummelled the city, destroying the Anglican cathedral and the market hall, along with factories and homes. Over five hundred people lost their lives that night. For those called to preach on Remembrance Sunday in this city, we do so in the embers of that destruction.

I was asked to lead worship for Earlsdon Methodist Church in the city on Sunday morning and these are some of the thoughts I shared:

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes it plays tricks on us. It makes us believe that things in the past were not quite as bad as we thought they were. Or that things were better, bigger, colder, brighter: summers always seemed to be hotter than they are today. Life was easier, community was stronger, Christmases were whiter.

Even as we form new memories, there is a process of editing going on in our brains. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of our memories. For they give us a sense of who we are, and root us in a particular time and place. It is because we share memories with others that we are part of a community. So when memory is lost, there is a sense of dislocation, of separation from community. That is why diseases such as Alzheimer’s are so devastating - because it causes that break with others. To remember is to be, and to become human. Today above all other dates in the Church’s and Nation’s calendar is a day for remembrance.

Part of Remembrance Sunday has always been about personal grief and private memories. We look at our television screens today and see veterans weeping tears of grief for their fallen comrades. It is as if it happened yesterday, when in fact it was 60, 70, 80 years ago. However, as the veterans of those conflicts pass away, there are some who say we should abandon this act of remembrance altogether, consign it to history. And if this day were only about personal remembrance, then most of us would have no part of it. We would simply be onlookers as others perform their ritual. But, if there are some who need to speak of their experiences of war, then the rest of us should listen. For we need constantly to be reminded of the horrendous cost of war.

In recent years, this act of remembrance has, in fact undergone something of a revival. Part of it is linked to the increased number of British service men and women involved in active conflict. But part of it has more negative u