It was in a tiny bakery shop that a large red plaque with “Lest We Forget” written on it caught my attention. It brought back memories of the stories my Dad told of being shot down, captured, confined in a prisoner of war camp, escaping, being caught and force marched across Germany as the Allies pressed in, on rations of only one potato a day.
He retold his stories to his youngest grandson too, so that’s two generations in our family that won’t forget what he went through. But is that what “Lest we forget” is for, to never forget those brave souls who gave up their careers, dreams, families, mental health and even their lives to protect us from tyrants?
It’s become that way, yes, but that wasn’t what it was for originally. It was first used in a poem by Rudyard Kipling for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, that began with the line, “God of our fathers, known of old,” so it was actually a direct appeal to God – the appeal being, “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget – lest we forget.”
But not forget what? Well the rest of the poem makes that clear, that no matter how much power a nation has, or how great its military might, nothing lasts forever. And we seem to forget that, which is why Kipling ends his poem with, “For frantic boast and foolish word – thy mercy on thy people, Lord.”
Because the “frantic boasting” and “foolish words” never end, do they? Presidents and Prime Ministers bang lecterns, shout with blazing eyes what they will do to anyone who dares threaten them – including their own people. They love boasting of their power, and become so infatuated with it they feel they can say anything, no matter how mad, callous, hypocritical or brazen lying it is. They utter words so dumb and foolish that they lose all respect, but don’t even notice it. And nor do many of their people, who just soak up their nonsense and vote for them anyway. No wonder Kipling begged God for mercy.
But not in a negative sense, because despite the endless frantic boasting and stupid nonsense spouted by our leaders that pit nation against nation, and even family members against each other, Kipling remembers that God’s mercy is forever too.
And without God’s mercy where would we be? He lets us primp and posture with our inflated egos, allows us to strut and threaten and head for yet another cliff, charging at its edge at full speed without even blinking – but for some incredible reason we’re still here, aren’t we? The planet is still intact. Madmen (and mad women) still rule us, but in every one of their lives their balloon of pride finally bursts, and their reign of nuttiness ends. Again and again, God only lets us go so far.
Which is what the “Lest we forget” plaque in that little bakery shop reminded me of, that “The Lord God of hosts is with us yet.” Despite every madness we’ve done to the planet and to each other, he hasn’t given up on us, has he?