I am writing this letter the week after I attended the service in Sanders Park to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Although you will be reading this in March, I believe that it is still relevant – because while it is important to have special times set aside, remembrance is something that should be a continuous process in our busy lives. We look to the past sometimes with nostalgia and sometimes with regret; at times with deep shame, as was the case on Holocaust Memorial Day as we kept silence for the many millions who were persecuted and murdered because they were different. This included not just Jews but many other groups despised by the Nazis, and despised by others since in consequent genocides.
But remembrance isn’t just about looking back. It is about standing together to make the future different. I was struck particularly by two girls from Woodrush School who shared with us their reaction to their visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Our remembrance needs to include commitment to build a world in which diversity is celebrated and embraced rather than viewed with suspicion and hatred. The young people who gathered with us in Sanders Park are a testimony to the fact that they are prepared to make such a commitment – that for them, remembering is about understanding what the past can teach us about building a society in which all can be affirmed whatever the differences of gender, sexuality, faith or culture. Perhaps because they are young and full of ideals they see beyond the cynicism of those who have lost faith that such change is possible.
But perhaps we all need to view change differently. When the Hebrew slaves were brought out of Egypt they spent forty years in the Wilderness. Many never reached the Promised Land in their life time. In Jewish thought it is not the destination that is all important but the journey. Those forty years in the wilderness were not wasted. They were an encounter with God, a part of the growing relationship with God, through which the people grew and changed. Transition can be difficult. It can make us feel insecure and lost – and we cling to what it familiar because it has made us feel secure in the past. But sometimes that difficult transition is as important as the destination in forming us and teaching us what is really important.
It is interesting that Jesus talked about himself as the Way. This suggests a continuing journey. Jesus showed us a way of being and living and it was not about clinging to the past or even about reaching a final destination. It was about understanding how to live in a way that made the living – a continual process of being – different for all. So we remember the past – what was good and what was not good as a means of making choices for the future we wish to build for us and those who will come after us. The way of Jesus enables us to be ready for whatever lies ahead. The journey is our “here and now”. And no journey can be static. It is by definition about moving and growing and changing. And that makes the present a gift given to us because we can choose what we do with it.
And I was encouraged that those young people who gathered with us around the memorial stone that marked the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau had made a brave and right choice.
I as a Christian stood alongside a Jew and a Muslim in leading the act of remembrance. We three, along with others, represented the three Abrahamic faiths which over the years have known such division and conflict and yet share so much, not least the story of a man who set out on a journey with nothing other than a belief that God knew his name – Abraham – which means Father of many. The many will not all be the same. But in our differences we may still find connection. In remembering, we all have a unique opportunity to learn from one another and be part of each other’s journey into a deeper understanding of our past, our present and our futures.