THE D-DAY LANDINGS COMMEMORATED LAST WEEK have often been used to illustrate lessons for the church’s task in the world today. Years ago at Heidebeek I first heard theologian Dr Gordon Fee drawing a parallel between the Normandy events and the global advance of God’s Kingdom.
Dr Fee explained that it had been the success of the Allied invasion on the French coastline, beginning early on that Tuesday morning of June 6, that had sealed Hitler’s fate and the end of the Third Reich. But while D-Day was the crucial turning point, the war was by no means over. Some of the war’s fiercest fighting lay ahead for the Allied troops as they battled their way up through France, Belgium and Holland: in the Battle of the Bulge, Operation Market Garden and the abortive Battle of Arnhem, for example. In fact, Dr Fee added, more Americans lost their lives in this last year of the war than in all the previous years put together. Many popular war films focus on this phase of the conflict, including The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Patton, Saving Private Ryan, and the television series Band of Brothers. They help us appreciate the sacrifices made by the war-time generations to bequeath to us the freedoms we now enjoy in Europe.
The point Dr Fee was making was that between D-Day and V-Day (Victory Day) almost a year later, much still had to happen – even though in retrospect the end result had been guaranteed by the successful invasion. Likewise, the turning point in human history was the death and resurrection of Jesus, which guaranteed Satan’s downfall. But the fiercest battles, many casualties and numbers of setbacks still lay ahead. We are still in the midst of those battles. Sometimes it seems the outcome is no foregone conclusion. We may see casualties all around and experience setbacks, but in the clamour and confusion of conflict we need to hold on to the big picture. Jesus is still the lord of history. The book of Revelation was given to encourage believers that, although things would get tough, Jesus and his church would finally win!
I was once taken aback by an angry and emotional response from a student in Belarus, while sharing this illustration as I spoke on the Kingdom of God. He was offended at the suggestion that the invasion from the west had been the decisive turning point in the war. Every Soviet person knew that it was the valiant and sacrificial resistance from the Red Army and Soviet citizenry in the east that had broken Hitler’s war machine. Stalingrad, not Normandy, had been the war’s real turning point. With 20 million dead, Russian casualties had been far higher than any other allied country. It was obvious where the real action had been!
Well, he had a point. The D-Day saga was only half the story. We westerners have been largely ignorant of the shattering impact the war had on the Soviet countries. The (English-language!) film Enemy at the Gate, about the Battle of Stalingrad, has helped remind western audiences of greatest battle in history in which one million lives were lost! Significantly, both President Putin and Chancellor Schroeder were invited for the first time to this year’s commemoration on the Normandy beaches. But do their allied counterparts ever attend commemorations of the significant turning points on the Eastern Front, like Leningrad and Stalingrad?
Whatever. The D-Day illustration still holds. Thanks to the worsening situation for Hitler on the eastern front, the invasion on the western front pounded the nails into his coffin.
Speaking of nails… perhaps due to fresh images from the film The Passion of the Christ, something else deeply impacted me around this year’s commemoration of D-Day. In the biggest land, sea and air operation of all time, many thousands of ships, planes and tanks, and millions of tons of armaments, ammunition and bombs, had been gathered in southern English ports and airstrips awaiting General Eisenhower’s signal. On that fateful dawn of June 6, the greatest armada ever assembled in history crossed the English Channel to turn the tide of modern history.
And yet, the greatest turning point in all of human history was effected by one, defenseless, naked man – nailed to a cross.
Till next week,
Till next week,