Make a difference by remembering the past

The Reverend Charles Chadwick, parish development adviser, Dorchester Archdeaconry, Diocese of Oxford

The Reverend Charles Chadwick, parish development adviser, Dorchester Archdeaconry, Diocese of Oxford

First published in

The Reverend Charles Chadwick, parish development adviser, Dorchester Archdeaconry, Diocese of Oxford

There are some things in life that are easy and nearly always pleasurable to remember, like one’s birthday, or passing one’s driving test, or meeting the person one is now deeply committed to.

Of course, sadly there can be those times and occasions that we recall with a sense of regret and even shame – perhaps words we wish we hadn’t said, or times when we didn’t behave as we could or should have done, or making a poor decision which badly affected us and those close to us.

This month has seen the first of what are likely to be a major series of commemorative occasions associated with the First World War. Next year is the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second World War, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

One might even think that remembering is a key British virtue, perhaps the sort of thing that some politicians believe should be taught in our schools. Yet all of these times of remembering just might make us pause and wonder what it is that we are remembering, and is it possible for our remembering of the past to make a difference to our lives today, or are we merely engaging in a selective form of nostalgia?

What might we remember from the past that could inspire us now and give us hope for the future?

At one level all the world’s faiths are based on a large degree of remembering. Indeed a cursory look at the Bible can uncover a vast range of material on this subject. In the Old Testament we find God promising to remember and even being held to his promise.

When God’s people fail to remember all that God has done for them, they unravel and soon become adrift from their past and each other. They are an excellent example of how remembering together says something important about a common life and identity.

In the New Testament we find Jesus telling those close to him to do something in remembrance of him. Across the centuries in a whole range of ways, people have found words and actions to be an extraordinarily powerful way of giving due heed to the past such that they can be confident about the present and hopeful for the future.

Delightfully when Jesus meets up with the disciples after this resurrection, he doesn’t ask them where they were when things got so difficult or why they had abandoned him and refused to even acknowledge him, rather he says, “Peace be with you” and tells them to forgive people.

It seems to me that we would do well to acknowledge the full truth of the past both its admirable and less admirable aspects – in our own lives and across history – and to use our remembering to commit more fully to one another and to live with peace and forgiveness as the core of our being.

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