Print Version November 14th, 2004
It was, with hindsight, asking for trouble to call it the war to end all wars. It became only the foretaste of a century of slaughter that left 110 million dead in combat, not to number the quiet millions murdered by war’s camp-followers: poverty, plague and famine.
So many dead! ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning we shall remember them’. But memorial is dangerous.
‘Not a stone will be left on a stone’, says Jesus. Luke, who pens these words, is writing after, not before, the Temple’s destruction; an event in its time as shocking as 9/11 has been in ours. Is Luke’s prophetic hindsight an act of memory or of forgetting? Because here’s the puzzle: when you recall the loss of what you have loved what is it you call back to life: the love or the loss, the life or the death?
It is a strange and urgent and dreadful thing to remember stone with stones. Whether it is sacred places or human lives we’ve lost we build monuments. We pile up stones as if to rebuild what has been destroyed. The first cenotaph was hastily built from wood and plaster and human need. Now, in solid stone, it will not let us forget the dead. The first memorial poppies were living petals brought to surprising life among the fallen. Now they are coloured paper.
Truth to tell, the dead do not live on in our memories. They are dead and we know we need to live so we let them go. We let them go but we do remember. But do we remember them or their leaving of us?
Not a stone will be left on a stone. This century began with the tumbling of the twin towers. Smoke and ash and falling stones. People falling like stones from burning windows. What is their memorial?
Terrorism is all about memorial; about remembering and forgetting. The terrorist wants us to forget what we believe and hold sacred: life and liberty; peace, justice, and compassion; trust and community. To let fear turn a living faith into a dead monument. Have they succeeded? How have love and hope and faith fared in these last years? What have we forgotten by waging war to win peace? Do we remember where our only security lies?
The gospel is very practical about living in a time of terror. Jesus forbids both naiveté (“Take care not to be deceived”) and despair (“Do not be terrified”). He commands improvisation (“You are not to prepare your defence”), trust (“I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom”) and stubborn hope (“Your endurance will win you your lives”).
I like that: stubborn hope in the face of fear. If there are stones to be laid, let them be building the kingdom of God.