Lest We Forget Who We Are and Whose We Are: Followers of Jesus’ Ways of Non-Violent Resistance – Matthew 5:38-48

lest we forgetLest we forget” is a phrase that has become synonymous with Remembrance Day. Sadly, our Remembrance Day commemorations have become disconnected from our history and the vast majority of those of us who observe Remembrance Day have forgotten its origins. Our collective amnesia about the phrase, “Lest we forget” is a case in point. I have always assumed that the phrase was coined to encourage the world not to forget those who have served, fought and in too many cases died to protect our freedoms. While the phrase’s attachment to Remembrance Day has served as a call to collective remembrance, it was coined for a far more humbling purpose than to honour the fallen heroes of foreign wars. The phrase, “Lest we forget” was coined by the great poet laureate of the British Empire Rudyard Kipling, in his daunting poem, “Recessional” written to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Kipling’s poem was a sobering call to humility at a time when the British people were basking in the glory of Empire. Recessional served as a reminder that the sun might never set on the British Empire, but God was still in God’s heaven and thus, the sun rises upon the evil as well as the good. Kipling warned those drunk on the excesses of Empire that God was sovereign and not the British people.

The entire poem is addressed to God as a prayer, and serves as a call to the Empire’s powerful Victorians to remember their place.

God of our fathers, known of old—

Lord of our far-flung battle line—

Beneath whose awful hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

The tumult and the shouting dies—

The Captains and the Kings depart—

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

Far-called our navies melt away—

On dune and headland sinks the fire—

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard—

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding calls not Thee to guard.

For frantic boast and foolish word,

Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!   Amen.

Amongst the pomp and circumstance of this solemn day, it is all to easy for those of us who aspire to be Christians, to forget who we are and whose we are. For we are a people who follow a man whose life was given to the cause of non-violence; a man who resisted the temptation to fight even in the face of the most brutal occupation army that the world had seen in first century. Jesus of Nazareth refused to take up arms against cruel oppression. Jesus proclaimed a radical new response to violence. Continue reading