The London Assembly Annual Service of Remembrance
8 November 2013
The Chamber, City Hall
Address given by The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster
Today is a day of remembrance.
Today we call to mind so many people who have died, especially those who have died in the service of the country and of this great City. We gather in this City Hall, from many walks of life, many religions and many strands of service, so that those who have gone before us are not forgotten.
Remembering comes in many different modes. For some it is remembering through personal knowledge, friendship and love. Then it may well be set in the embrace of personal sadness and the continual pain of loss. We still miss those who have died and we recall them today in sharp relief and tenderness.
We stand here today remembering others who come into our minds for the part they played in our public life and liberties. We think of members of the armed forces, known to us less by name than by the service they gave. We honour them in their profession, in their dedication and, ultimately, in the sacrifice they made. Indeed so much of our Service today resonates with the call to duty to which they responded so thoroughly and so courageously. We will indeed remember them.
Today is also a day of Commitment. It is a day for us, for each one of us, to renew within ourselves the desire to serve. The words to which we will shortly respond describe that commitment in broad terms: to honour the living; to strive for peace; to heal the wounds of conflict; to work for justice. They echo clearly the words of the Gospel passage we heard, the wonderful words of the Beatitudes. Each of us, as we take these words to heart, has to translate them into a pattern of living that is more specific, more down to earth. We know our own circumstances, the streets we tread, the colleagues we have at work, the fabric of personal relationships within which we spend our day. It is in these circumstances that we are to be poor in spirit that others may be rich; that we are to avoid bombast and pride so that others may flourish; that we are to be ready to forgive, full of mercy, because we know our own weaknesses and the corruption in our hearts; that we are to be peacemakers for only then does the nobility of every person shine out.
In presenting this summary of the teaching of Jesus, St Matthew tells us that Jesus went up the mountain and there he sat down. These are symbolic details. In this tradition, the meeting between God and man always takes place on a mountain. In this tradition, to be seated is to take up the position of a teacher. In these Beatitudes, Jesus is giving to us the instruction of God himself. This is the deepest reason for wanting to renew our commitments today: they are founded on divine teaching.
Today is also a day of faith. It is a moment in which we recall the promise, certainly given in Christ, of eternal life with God as the final outcome offered to us all.
This promise is a light which comes to us today across the centuries and which lights up the future with its promise of eternal life. It is a light which is refracted to us in a thousand different ways.
Three days ago I went to the Museum of London to see the Cheapside Hoard, that wonderful collection of jewellery coming to us from the turbulence of 17th century London. In the exhibition I was reminded of the symbolic meanings often attributed to precious stones, in their colour and form.
We know that jewels often speak of the love between the one who gives the gift and the one who wears it. They also speak of faith and hope.
In the exhibition, there is a delicate green leaf jewel, which stands, in its greenness, for the gift of life itself, the gift of eternal life.
In the exhibition there were also deep red stones, garnets and rubies. They were used to represent the Precious Blood of Christ, through which the gift of eternal life is made manifest and brought within our reach. This, of course, is the faith which I and many others profess today. It shapes the deepest meaning of our Service and of the prayers that are being used.
Green and red. These are also the colours of the poppies we wear today. Green the colour of eternal life; red the colour of sacrifice, of shed blood, most of all that in the sacrifice of Christ himself.
May these poppies, which will be so much in prominence in coming days, truly help us to remember and honour the dead. May they also help to keep alive in our hearts the promise of eternal salvation, the greatest invitation offered by God to us all.
Archbishop of Westminster