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BY Ted Schroder

I will never forget my first Memorial Day weekend in the USA. That Sunday morning in 1971 after I led the prayers at Christ Church, in Hamilton-Wenham, Massachusetts, I was greeting the worshippers at the door when a lady said to me, "You didn't mention Memorial Day in your prayers." I apologized and pled ignorance. She introduced herself as the wife of General George Patton, the son of the celebrated World War II general. I never forgot Memorial Day after that!

On May 8 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Fifty million people died in that war, Europe had been destroyed, millions had been driven from their homes and were wandering the highways of Europe, displaced and starving. The Allies gave Europeans true liberation from oppression and dictatorship in terms of moral righteousness. The free, democratic Western Europe that emerged after the war was totally the product of ordinary Americans, achieved by ordinary Americans dying by the thousands. About 135,000 Americans died between D-Day and V-E Day.

The equivalent of Memorial Day in New Zealand was Anzac Day, named after the Australia & New Zealand Army Corps, which fought together in World War I. It was celebrated on April 25, the day in 1915 when the ANZACS were landed at the Gallipoli peninsula to capture that part of Turkey, so that the Allies could occupy Constantinople, secure the Suez Canal, establish safe routes to Russia, prevent Bulgaria from entering into the war, and relieve the Western front in France and Belgium. My grandfather, after whom I was named, was one of those men. Fighting against an enemy, heavily entrenched on higher ground, well supplied and provisioned, and superbly led by German officers and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, they were slaughtered in their thousands. Due to many mistakes, poor preparation and coordination, inadequate medical support and food, incompetent commanders, shortage of ammunition, and the geography, they suffered fifty per cent casualties. It was like an Omaha Beach that failed. By June and July the beach-head was one enormous hospital with men being evacuated by the boatloads daily. My grandfather suffered wounds on July 14 and was hospitalized. He later went on to serve in the terrible trench warfare in France, survived to return home, after over four years, aged 26. Every year as a child, I marched to the local war memorials, and remembered those who paid the supreme sacrifice.

As an undergraduate I studied the origins of the First World War - the war to end all wars - it was called. While my grandfathers' generation would not have recognized it, there is no doubt that the domino effect of the first World War occasioned the Russian Revolution and the spread of Communism, contributed to the Depression, the rise of Fascism, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Holocaust, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the present hostilities in the Middle East.

George Weigel, in The Cube and the Cathedral, notes St. Paul's passage from Troy in Asia Minor to Philippi on the European mainland did more to shape the future of European culture and European history than anything recorded about that place and time by Livy and the other great historians of his day. Paul's crossing over to Philippi took place underneath the surface of history so that those who even noticed that an itinerant rabbi from Tarsus had come to Europe and was preaching another king than Caesar couldn't grasp the significance of what was being said. But its invisibility to those writing history in the first century A.D. was no true measure of what was really important for the human future in the affairs of first century Asia Minor.

Similarly, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn claims that the horrors of the twentieth century wars may be traced back to World War I. "The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it. That war... took place when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation that could not but sap its strength for a century or more and perhaps forever. The only possible explanation for this is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them... Only the loss of that higher intuition which comes from God could have allowed the West to accept calmly after World War I, the protracted agony of Russia as she was being torn apart by a bunch of cannibals... The West did not perceive that this was in fact the beginning of a lengthy process that spells disaster for the whole world." (Weigel, 33)

George Weigel argues that World War I was a product of a crisis of civilizational morality, a failure of moral reason, in a culture that had given the world the very concept of moral reason. That crisis of moral reason led to a crisis of civilizational morale that is much with us today - what we cherish, honor and worship. We honor the memory of those who died for our freedom by understanding the roots of national conflict and applying ourselves to doing what we can to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Jesus, in his Mount of Olives discourse (Matthew 24) prophesied the ending of the Jewish nation. His words also apply to any period of national history. "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. [Nietzsche, Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin] You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pangs."

The history of the world will always be filled with conflict between nations and peoples. But there is another history being written. We, who believe in Christ and follow him as our Savior, and Commander-in-chief, are citizens of two kingdoms: this world and the kingdom of heaven. We are called to fulfill our obligations in both kingdoms. This world will eventually pass away, as we all will do some day. The Christian hope is that we will be reborn into another Age to come where there will be no more war: "no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

This world will be the arena of much suffering. There is much evil in the world. There are many people who are our enemies and are enemies of Christ. Terrible things are done. Injustice and cruelties abound. The daily newspaper, and the television gives us all the gory details. The battlefields are not just overseas, but often in our communities, our businesses, our government, and in our homes and marriages. We must be prepared to suffer in the name of Christ. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:9-14)

In the midst of suffering those who stand firm to the end will be saved. To stand firm for Christ and his kingdom we continue to hope rather than give in to despair; we seek the empowering of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us; we persevere in prayer; we resist the devil and overcome his temptations with the Word of God; we are assured of the loving Presence of the Savior to uphold us and protect us in the midst of conflict and discouragement.

The world needs the gospel of the kingdom of heaven to be preached as a testimony to all nations. It is the only sure antidote to nationalism, greed, the lust for power, and the cruelty of humanity. We honor our sacred dead by ensuring that their sacrifice was not in vain. This we do by witnessing to the gospel of Christ: the gospel of love, and not hate; of peace, and not hostility; of freedom, and not bondage; of justice, and not oppression; of human dignity and respect; of courage and not cowardice. For that we need the supernatural power of the Spirit of Christ.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida.

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