What Do We Celebrate on Remembrance Day?

What Do We Celebrate on Remembrance Day?

Our tradition has often been uncomfortable with appeals to the use of force to solve the problems of the world, and rightly so.
Remembrance day poppies atop stone wall.
Enidanc, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Across the United Church, there are many approaches to marking Remembrance Day. In contributing a new selection of prayers for use in a Remembrance Sunday service, my hope was to address the wide variety of needs of different church congregations.

Our tradition has often been uncomfortable with appeals to the use of force to solve the problems of the world, and rightly so. We celebrate the way of Jesus, of personal non-violence, and of the call to non-violence as an ideal that has practical implications in bringing about God’s shalom. So appropriate prayers for Remembrance Sunday, which is traditionally celebrated the Sunday before Remembrance Day, include prayers for the Christian calling to seek ways other than the use of force.

Our tradition has, at the same time, recognized that engagement in the world has also involved incarnated engagement with the structures of power, in order to transform them and to nudge us closer to the ways of peace. The just war tradition is shared not only with other Christian denominations, but also with our cousins in other faith traditions. It recognizes that if we are to “seek justice and resist evil,” we may have to legitimize and sanction some uses of force to constrain those that threaten the innocent and the powerless. Some of the prayers offered for Remembrance Sunday, while they do not celebrate the cause of war, recognize that there are situations in which we may have to respond to God’s call to justice by using the means we have at our disposal, and not pass by on the other side for fear of compromising our own integrity.

In the ambiguity of human endeavour, we can also recognize that even in the most calamitous of circumstances—in natural disaster, human injustice, and even war—we can still experience values worth celebrating and encouraging: sacrifice, courage, virtue, selflessness. This, too, is represented in prayers for the day.

My deepest hope is that these prayers—many of which seem to contradict each other, and lead us in opposite directions—might represent the fullness of our complex and complicated relationship with war, violence, justice, peace, and sacrifice.

—The Rev. Dr. Neil Parker is a military chaplain at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in Meaford, ON, and an active member of Northern Waters Presbytery and Toronto Conference.

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.