Summary: What are our "front lines"? Jesus faced death, and His resurrection empowers us to face life.
Army Chaplain Edward Rogers, a Lutheran minister, served with the soldiers of the “Big Red One”, the First Infantry Division, in WWII. Like most chaplains, he saw a lot of troops come to him with complaints about the Army. Some chaplains hand out cards, “authorizing” 15 visits with the Chaplain. The joke was the chaplain would use a paper punch for each visit. This is allegedly where the term “getting your ticket punched” came from. I handed them out as well, as a conversation piece. It wasn’t taken seriously, but talking to troops about their problems definitely is a big part of the job.
Chaplain Rogers did “ministry of presence,” bringing God to troops in the trenches. He marched with the 1ID in their campaigns in Italy and North Africa, then into France, Belgium, and Germany. He said that soldiers “may forget the church and God, but the church and God’s pastors and priests did not forget them.”
He recounts an incident on early Easter Sunday 1944. The 349th Infantry battalion had dug in near the German front about halfway up the Italian peninsula south of Rome. The regimental Commander worked with his chaplain on a plan to provide some Easter for the troops at the front. The idea was to set up loud-speakers so that Catholic and Protestant soldiers could at least hear an Easter message. They were so close to the Germans that the enemy forces would hear the service as well. After discussing the situation, the Commander and Chaplain agreed to open the service in German because the message of Easter is for all nations, for enemies as well as friends. Chaplain Rogers, who spoke fluent German (naturally, since he was Lutheran), prepared a brief service in German for that day.
On Easter Eve, Signal Corps troops laid wire and set up loud-speakers. Some rear echelon personnel made their way forward to worship and observe. So on Easter morning, words of Scripture and prayers were broadcast across the 400 yards of no-man’s land toward the enemy lines. The Chaplain stated, in English and German: “Should not all Christians be jubilant this day? Should not all people rejoice? For now Christ has died and rose again for all people--for Germans and Americans alike. Therefore I wish you all today a Blessed Easter!” Then 1LT Charlotte Johnson, an Army nurse, sang “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, composed by German-born George Frederic Handel. What isn’t known is how the German troops responded. Appropriately Chaplain Rogers read from Psalm 139: “If I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there” (Taken from Serving God & Country, Lyle Dorsett).
Where are our “front lines”? Could it be a hostile work environment? A home where we’re outnumbered by skeptics? A school that mocks our Christian faith? A group of friends whose interests are anything but spiritual? God may place us in situations where we are decidedly in the minority. Yet the Easter message is one of victory and triumph. “The resurrection proved that Jesus has conquered every enemy that was opposed to Him, to God, and to us.” (Lloyd-Jones).
I recently spoke with a Gordon-Conwell seminarian who said he was tempted after graduation to serve a church in the “Bible Belt” but he felt that was too easy; he wanted instead to go to the front lines, to a more challenging area where Christianity was not widely popular; a place of great need. It’s been said, “When we take on the resurrected Christ, we take on His mission in the world--a mission to carry that resurrection light into the darkest of places and to break down the gates of hell” (Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola).
I understand this seminarian’s attitude. God sent me to the Army, where I encountered soldiers who had little interest in religion. It was a challenge to communicate the love of God, but an urgent task. New England is the least churched region of the country, so we have a challenging mission. Wherever God takes us, we have opportunities to live in the power of Christ’s resurrection and share the Good News. We could present arguments for the resurrection, but most people don’t come to faith by persuasion; they’re convinced by the conduct of Christians.
Maybe your “front-lines” is a bed of sickness; every week we pray for those who are struggling with illness or injury. Some people give in rather than fight; they lose hope when they could rise above the pain. When we despair, it is like sending our bodies a “die” message. As a former hospital chaplain I’ve seen patients give up and succumb to illness. I’ve also seen patients who choose to live till they die; in other words, they refuse to be defined by their illness, and they maintain a positive, faith-filled attitude. I would visit them to offer encouragement, and they encouraged me!