There are many rituals that help express remembrance. A visit to the cemetery, the lighting of a candle, familiar music, a prayer, standing in silence.
In the history of the Jewish people is the story of the crossing of the Jordan river. The priests carried the Covenant Box and, as they put their feet into the river, its flow stopped, letting the people cross into the promised land. Joshua, Moses’ successor, ordered the placing of a monument: 12 rocks taken from the middle of the Jordan, one for each tribe, as a sign of this miracle.
These stones will remind you what the Lord has done. In the future, when your children ask what these stones mean to you, you will tell them what happened here. (Joshua 4: 6-7)
When your children ask: Why these stones? What does it mean to die? Where are my grandparents? Who are these soldiers? What is a Cenotaph? You tell what these symbols mean, who these photographs are, and talk about the connection we have to our past. You talk about the flow of the River of Life, from millennia past into years to come. You tell the story of faith.
Creating rituals of remembrance tells the stories of those we have known and loved. They root each generation in the history of those who have gone before. They remind us of the River’s constant flow and the vulnerability of our lives. And in the remembrance, its silence and symbolism is the security of knowing we are not alone. As God led our ancestors, God meets us today in the ebb and flow of our lives. As love carried them, it carries us.
When our children ask, Why these poppies? We tell of those lives remembered, of grandfathers, fathers, sisters, neighbours dying in far off places. We tell their stories through poetry, photos, personal memories, and we ritualize that remembrance by wearing a poppy and laying wreaths.
It was my honour to pray the following prayer at the Cenotaph in Verdun last Sunday and will be my privilege to participate at the Cenotaph service on Remembrance Day in Cowansville. This prayer comes from my experiences of pilgrimage to war cemeteries and memorials in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany and the 100th anniversary at Vimy Ridge in 2017. It honours my father, Ernest Lefneski (a WW2 five year veteran) Uncle Bill (killed when his plane was shot down over the English Channel) and grandfather, William Geddes (WW1). In the rituals of remembrance we keep alive the stories of those whose courage, faith and love are celebrated for each new generation.
Into this Remembrance we gather as citizens, neighbours and friends.
En ce moment de souvenirs nous nous rassemblons en tant citoyens, voisins et amis.
Each of us speaks in the prayer language of our hearts and within our human and faith traditions.
Chacun de nous parle le langue de prière de nos cœurs, et selon nos traditions humaines et de foi.
God, on this day, in our remembrance, listening and gratitude,
we determine for these now voiceless:
Dieu, en ce jour, dans le souvenir collectif, l'écoute et la gratitude,
nous nous engageons pour ceux qui n'ont plus de voix:
To speak for truth and justice,
to resist evil wherever it is found,
to seek peace always, in our words and in our deeds!
À parler pour la vérité et la justice,
à résister au mal, la où il se trouve,
à toujours rechercher la paix, en actes et en paroles!
Hear our prayer for all here remembered.
Entend notre prière pour tous ceux dont nous faisons mémoire.
Hear our prayer of peace for all peoples of our earth.
Écoute notre prière de paix pour tous les peuples de notre terre.
Lest we forget.
Rev. David prays at the Cenotaph in front of Verdun Borough hall last Sunday.