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From the Rectory

  November 2017  

There’s something amazingly appropriate about the way November is the season for remembrance. The weather is getting colder, most of the leaves have fallen – and there’s a sombre quality about the days, as the hours of daylight diminish.

Long before the Christian era, the peoples of northern Europe believed that, as the winter nights grew longer and darkness prevailed, evil spirits became stronger. In the Celtic countries, especially Scotland and Ireland, 31st October was celebrated as ‘Samhain’ (‘summer’s end’) – a day midway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice.

Sacrifices were offered in thanksgiving for the harvest, and bonfires were lit (a custom that survived into the 20th century). The ancient Celts also saw Samhain as a time for communion with the spirits of the departed, as the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was said to be at its thinnest at this time. The dead were invited to return to feast with  their loved ones, and food was put out for them.

It’s against this background that the Church has for over a thousand years kept All Saints’ Day (sometimes called ‘All Hallows’ Day’, from ‘to hallow’ meaning ‘to make holy’) on 1st November – as a celebration of those whose lives have expressed their faith in particularly attractive ways.

 It meant that the Church was able to harness and counteract the pagan Samhain customs of the previous day of ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ – or ‘Hallowe’en’ for short.

2nd November has long been kept as All Souls’ Day, when the lives of departed family and friends were celebrated. As with Samhain, food was often put on family graves – especially cakes. Over the years, the custom changed, and people would go ‘a-souling’ – visiting the larger houses in the area, and asking for ‘soul cakes’.

5th November is when the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot is marked (and is also an opportunity for unhealthy anti-Catholic feelings to be expressed – with the burning of ‘guys’ itself being a bizarre celebration of the horrendous torture and slow death to which the conspirators were condemned).

And then comes Remembrance Day on 11th November – with the custom being to transfer it to the nearest Sunday. This, for most people, is what the season of remembrance is really all about. And although none of the combatants of the 1914-18 are still alive (as is barely anyone with any memory at all of those years), the occasion is marked in as solemn a way as it ever has been.

Partly this is because the dead of all later wars are also included in the remembrance, which is obviously particularly poignant and meaningful for those who lost loved ones between 1939-45. And although there are rapidly diminishing numbers of them, there is no suggestion that it’s time to abandon Remembrance Day.

And that’s because the sheer act of coming together, once a year, to acknowledge the horror and futility of war, is a way for communities to lament the loss of so many young lives, lives that had barely got going.

The sacrifice (a word with all sorts of religious associations) involved was so absolute – that it  should never be made light of, or taken for granted.

All we can do is stand silently alongside one another, at war memorials across the country (and across the world) and listen as the names are read. Long, long lists of those who never came home, young men whose wives and children (and parents and wider families) would never see them again.

It’s such a desperately sad and solemn and serious occasion – but one that’s always in danger of lapsing into jingoism. It’s clearly right to remember those who have fallen in war – and we somehow need to include those on all sides in all conflicts. Bringing about the deliberate death of another human being should never be a cause for celebration.

And the best way of marking Remembrance Day, is to resolve to settle human differences by  non-military means.

As with many of Jesus’s teachings, such an idea appears completely and utterly impractical. But until it becomes at least an aspiration, the same old cycle of slaughter will remain dreadfully legitimised.

 And the lessons of war – just forgotten.

Revd Tony

Any enquiries relating to the Week St. Mary Circle of Parishes should be directed to:
Revd Tony Windross, The Rectory, The Glebe, Week St. Mary, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 6UY
Email:  • Telephone: 01288 341600

For local enquiries relating to Week St. Mary Church matters please contact either of the Churchwardens:  Lesley Booker Tel: 01288 341221  or  Richard Sowerby Tel: 01288 341348

For enquiries relating to Week St. Mary Methodist Church please contact
Rev Doreen Sparey-Delacassa • The Manse, Canworthy Water • Telephone: 01566 781854

© All of the content of the Week St. Mary website is the copyright of David Martin & Linda Cobbledick except where stated 2006-2017