A few days ago I had a very humbling experience. I was at a conference in the Netherlands. One of my fellow participants asked what I planned to do on our day off. I replied that I intended to visit one of the World War II battlefields which was nearby. His response took me totally by surprise. “Thank you for what you did for our freedom.” The words were all the more amazing because I hadn’t even been born, let alone taken part in the liberation of Europe. Further, the man who thanked me was from Austria. As you know, during World War II his country was on the other side. Yet, here he was, 75 years after the conflict, thanking me for what my country did to free Europe from tyranny.
Something else struck me as I wandered about the battlefield the next day. At the base of every marker or commemorative plaque I saw, people had left crosses or wreathes or flowers. I’m told that every year, on the anniversary of the battle, local school children lay flowers on the graves of the 1,700 allied servicemen who are buried in the Airborne Cemetery.
What’s particularly ironic about all this is that the battle failed to bring liberation. The allied force was defeated with huge losses. Not only did the fighting bring death and destruction to the civilian population, after the battle the civilians were forcibly evicted from the towns where it took place. During the following winter, hundreds of Dutch children starved to death.
In light of what happened, you would think that the Dutch would be bitter and resentful. Instead, they are grateful and honor those who fought. One plaque outside of the battle museum is especially touching. It reads in part:
To the People of Gelderland
…British & Polish Airborne soldiers fought here against overwhelming odds to open the way into Germany and bring the war to an early end. Instead we brought death and destruction for which you never blamed us.
This stone marks our admiration for your great courage remembering especially the women who tended our wounded…
As I walked through the battlefield and the museum exhibits I couldn’t help contrasting what happened in another battle. The battle for Arnhem failed. Instead of liberation it brought misery and suffering on the innocent. In contrast, Jesus succeeded in His fight against Satan and death. Through the cross He gave life to people who didn’t deserve it.
But the thing which struck me most was the contrast between how people view the two conflicts. Even though the Dutch suffered terribly as a result of the lost battle fought on their soil, they still remember and are grateful for the attempt to liberate them. In contrast, all too many people have forgotten, or are indifferent to the freedom from sin Christ bought for us on the cross.
Jesus asked us to remember Him. Not with flowers or a plaque. He asked us to eat some bread in memory of His body. He asked us to drink some wine in memory of His blood. As we do that this morning, let’s do it with gratitude in our hearts for the sacrifice He made on our behalf. He gave His life, so that we can have life.
The Apostle Paul writes, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV)
That’s something to remember! It’s something to be grateful for!