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The United Church of Canada
The Rev. Dr. Lillian Perigoe

November 7, 1999

Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78, 1-7

An Act of Remembrance

On this Sunday, the following 'Act of Remembrance', with readings, music, symbols and actions, took the place of the sermon.

(Each reader in turn to lectern to read, take symbol from table at side, show symbol, and place on table. To standing mike to say God, make me a channel of your peace, previous voices adding, then behind table, to stand with others.)

1.Narrator: Rae Perigoe: Today we try to remember. It is easy to forget; to remember takes some effort. The writers whose words we hear today knew that. From We Stand on Guard, a collection of poems and songs of Canadians at war, comes a poem by Raymond Souster, based on his father's recollection of the horrors of trenches and mustard gas in the Autumn of 1917:

Reader: Peter Fisher: 'Passchendaele, October 1917'

Half-drowning in the miserable lean-to

that was really just a tin roof over mud,

my father heard a strange plop plop plop

almost on top of him, panicked, yelled at Fred

who was drowsing beside him

and with both hands shaking

somehow pulled his gas-mask on.

But old Fred wasn't buying it this time,

he was sick to death of false alarms,

so didn't budge until the first yellow cloud

seeped in a minute later (my father watching

through his half-fogged goggles, heard Fred cough,

then struggle with his gas mask,

cough, clutch his throat again,

then jump up, scramble out, a madman screaming

as he ran for the battery gas-curtain...)

Six months or so later he was back,

his lungs almost good as new. (Raymond Souster)

Symbol: helmet

2. Narrator: Etty Hillesum - independent, 'liberated' in a modern sense, sophisticated: she lived with friends in a communal household, studied psychology and literature, had lovers, saw an analyst. Jewish by birth, she felt no strong religious affiliation. She could be any contemporary 27-year-old woman, but Etty Hillesum lived in Amsterdam and kept her journals in the dark period from 1941 to 1943, years of occupation and genocide. Despite all the accounts we have of the Nazi era, the diaries of this startlingly '90's' young woman speak to us in the unique voice of one trying to keep her humanity and faith intact in an increasingly menacing environment, as she searches for an authentic response to the questions history forces upon her.

Reader: Lindsay Cowan Dotchison

from her diary: Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise You one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself. I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance.

But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You, God, cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others, as well.Alas, there doesn't seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.

There are, it is true, some who, even at this late stage, are putting their vacuum cleaners and silver forks and spoons in safe keeping, instead of guarding You, dear God. And there are those who want to put their bodies in safe keeping, but who are nothing more now than a shelter for a thousand fears and bitter feelings. And they say, 'I shan't let them get me into their clutches. But they forget that no one is in their clutches who is in Your arms.

I am beginning to feel a little more peaceful, God, thanks to this conversation with You. I shall have many more conversations with You. You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labour for You and remain faithful to You, and I shall never drive You from my presence.

Narrator: The diary breaks off in September, 1943, on her deportation to Auschwitz, where Etty died, at age 29.)

Symbol: diary

3. Narrator: A poem by Pamela Holmes, from a collection of women's poetry from the Second World War.

Reader: Michele Ferrari: 'Missing, Presumed Killed'

There is no cross to mark

The place he lies,

And no man shared his dark Gethsemane,

Or, witnessing that simple sacrifice,

Brought word to me.

There is no grave for him;

The mourning heart

Knows not the destination of its prayer,

Save that he is anonymous, apart,

Sleeping out there.

But though strict earth may keep

Her secret well,

She cannot claim his immortality;

Safe from that darkness whence he fell,

He comes to me.

Narrator: Another poem, 'War Baby' continues the story, the pain, the remembering.

Reader: Michele continues:

He has not even seen you, he

Who gave you your mortality;

And you, so small, how can you guess

His courage or his loveliness?

Yet in my quiet mind, I pray

He passed you on the darkling way -

His death, your birth, so much the same -

And, holding you, breathed once your name.

symbol- old, stuffed bear, medals

4. Narrator: This, we are told, has been a century or unparalleled war and conflict. We have heard the voices and experiences of some who suffered and died in the First and Second World Wars. But hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men have died in other wars, too, as recently as this month. A Canadian journalist recently published an account of the aftermath of war in Belgrade. An excerpt:

Reader: Judy Campbell

Jelena, the arthritic flower-seller is back on the steps of the National Theatre, spreading her brightly coloured dried posies to lure the passersby. It's a reassuring sign, a glimpse of normality, a fleeting hope that everything is just as it was.

'Sometimes it seems as though the war never really happened,' a friend says to me as we walk through the familiar streets of Belgrade together for the first time since I left at the point of a gun last spring. ' But then', she adds, 'we remember the conditions we live under. And we can never forget for a moment.

The conditions are not immediately obvious, I realized, pushing my way through the crazily weaving traffic, the hundreds of strollers and shoppers, the stray dogs and loiterers outside cafes.

Belgrade is not Grozny, flattened and desolate, its crumbling ruins a pedestrian peril. It is not Pristina, with out-of-control looters and killers in the smashed streets.

In Belgrade's gray downtown core, the faces of the buildings tell little about the nights of anguish during the bombing. But the faces of the people tell their own stories. Bleak, withdrawn into themselves, wary. Wondering how they will get through the morning, the week, and the rest of their lives.

'People are just aimless, stunned in a way', says my Belgrade friend, a writer. 'They don't have any hope for the future. Each family has its horror story: death, trauma, brokenness. Violence, demoralization, economic disasters, conflict between groups and within families - all of these are part of the war.

'It's like the last days of something', says my friend with a shiver, as we round the corner. 'But what?' The question hangs in the chilly air.

On the steps of the theatre, Jelena bends painfully to retrieve her unsold flowers, packing each small bouquet carefully in strips f newspaper. In case someone would buy.

In case, tomorrow, there would be something to buy flowers for.

From 'Yugoslavs Holding on Grimly to Hope", by Olivia Ward, The Toronto Star, Oct. 23, 1999.

symbol - flower in vase...

Narrator..... How do we respond? In memory, yes. In hope and faith....William Blake wrote 'On Another's Sorrow':

For Mercy has a human heart

Pity a human face,

And Love, the human form divine,

And peace, the human dress.

Can I see another's woe,

And not be in sorrow, too?

Can I see another's grief,

And not seek for kind relief?

Move to circle: God, make me a channel of your peace

Lillian: As we listen to Glyn's solo 'For the Fallen', we invite any who wish to do so to come forward to place your own symbols of remembrance and/ or to place on our wall the names of those whom you remember on this day. Or you may give symbols or names to children from the Church School class who will bring them forward for you....

SOLO, followed by A TIME OF SILENCE: The Last Post and Reveille:

CANDLE LIGHTING: At end, Lillian lights taper from Christ candle, saying:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O God, and may perpetual light shine on them

May the souls of the righteous, through your great mercy, rest in peace....

All light a candle on the table of symbols; stand together, then return to places...

Thanks to readers, participants and to the Worship Planning Team.
Copyright © 1999 - The Rev. Dr. Lillian Perigoe
Revised -- November 9, 1999

Please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing this resource.
Page © 2004 - 2005 - The Rev. Richard J. Fairchild

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