No matter where we are this Remembrance Day, whether a local cenotaph, a neighbourhood church, our home or workplace, we shall all in some way be drawn to Canada’s National War Memorial. The observances there will be especially poignant given the recent deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec and Corporal Nathan Cirillo while on honour guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. Within just a day and a half, colleagues in his company resumed their duties at this tomb, – one of Canada’s most sacred sites.
While thousands will gather in person at the National War Memorial, thousands more will gather in spirit. Together we will honour all who have died in the service of our country and the freedom of the world. By way of tribute to their sacrifices there is a lot of pageantry. The Governor General represents our Queen and the Commonwealth and our Prime Minister and numerous other leaders in government pay their respects. Flags and regimental colours are dipped, and wreaths are laid. The Last Post and the Reveille are played and all join in the singing of “O Canada”. My sense is that this year our singing and our praying will be more fulsome than in many years. I say our praying too because our national anthem is as much a prayer as a song. “God keep our land” we sing, “glorious and free”. The rarely-sung fourth verse of the anthem reads:
“Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer, hold our dominion in thy loving care. Help us to find, O God, in thee a lasting rich reward, as waiting for the better day, we ever stand on guard.”
Led by the chaplains of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Legion these solemn ceremonies call us to be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy and the costs in human life to protect and preserve that freedom. The processions of veterans those of the First and Second World Wars and, the Korean Conflict are now swelled in rank by another wave of veterans from more recent conflicts in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Some can still parade. Others must be wheeled. It’s when I see them wiping tears from their eyes that I often cry too. As I see a Silver Cross mother representing all mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters in war I find it hard to fight back tears for so much lost love.
I am always moved by that moment at the end of the ceremonies when everyone present is invited to remove their poppy and lay it down at the monument. By this simple gesture each of us is given an opportunity to remember someone by name – a family member, a friend, a comrade and to pray that they may rest in peace. We remember too all of the innocent victims of war, who are all too often forgotten and whose names are sometimes never known.
The Scriptures summon us to this holy work of remembering and to the sacred ministry of pursuing peace and reconciliation. They call us to labour for that day when “swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But they shall sit everyone under their vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:3-4)
This Remembrance Day I invite you to pray a “Common Prayer for All Faith Groups”, composed in 2000 under the authority of the Chaplain General of the Canadian Forces on the occasion of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Almighty God, Today our minds and hearts are with those who gather to witness Canada’s Unknown Soldier being laid to rest at our National War Memorial. Hear our prayer as we gratefully and enthusiastically join in the wave of remembrance sweeping across our nation.
In unity with all Canadians, of every race, gender, and creed we offer up prayers of thanksgiving for all those who made selfless sacrifices for God and country so that we and future generations might live in peace.
Bring your comfort and relief to those who mourn. Enable those who were wounded in body, mind, or spirit to live more peaceful and satisfying lives. Endow us all with a new resolve to hasten that day when war shall be no more and Your will alone is done on all the earth.
In Your Holy Name we pray.