The Rector writes:
Early in May, I was taking one of my inside-of-the-week breaks over in the Netherlands, a country I have grown very fond of, this past year. I was there for Ascension Day which was also Liberation Day in Holland. In the morning we attended the Eucharist at the Old Catholic Cathedral in Haarlem. There were about fifteen of us there, as opposed to the 10,000 who seemed to be disgorged from every train arriving at the station heading joyously for an open air pop concert on a lovely warm day; a day of commemoration of the moment when Holland was freed from Nazi occupation in 1945.
The previous day, we had travelled to Arnhem and Nijmegen, where we had gazed across the Lower Rhine and imagined the events of September 1944, and Operation Market Garden. Standing in the restored and lovely St Eusebius Church in Arnhem, visitors are reminded of the very darkest times in Europe’s 20th Century, lest we forget. Thus we reflected, definitely not forgetting, on that tragic military operation that ended Allied expectations of finishing the war by Christmas 1944, which featured in the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’.
Both towns, badly destroyed in the war, are now modern, prosperous and peaceful European cities and in the spring sunshine the populous were also preparing for a music festival on Liberation day. As we stood at a lovely viewing point gazing across the River Rhine in Nijmegen towards Germany, I closed my eyes for a moment, imagining the chaotic scenes at the same spot seven decades before, and thought of how much we owe those who gave their lives and our indebtedness for the sacrifice which has allowed us the freedom to travel across our continent today, the freedom too to place our crosses democratically on our election ballot papers, and most especially the freedom to make a decision about our place in the European family of nations.
In a side chapel of St Eusebius Church in Arnhem, commemorating the bravery of the paratroopers of those Allied forces who attempted to isolate the Germans by capturing the bridge across the river Nederrijn, there is a ceiling adorned with models of parachutists, representing the airborne corps from 1944. Of course they were parachuting down but I couldn’t help think of them as going upwards into heaven as well. It was an image I couldn’t get out of mind as I thought of the familiar words from the Lord’s Prayer, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.
As I looked up at these figures, I pondered on how we, as a human race, are called to live our lives through times of joy and times of uncertainty, and always, if we are the people God calls us to be, seeking to attain the kingdom of heaven on earth, but knowing only too well how often we have failed spectacularly throughout our history in that task.
Just as in the Ascension story the disciples have to move on, have to find ways of facing the challenges of a new order after Jesus leaves them, so in every generation, learning from what has gone before us, we go forward with courage, taking responsibility, making decisions that will have consequences for the future. If we are wise, we might stop and like the disciples, waiting upon the gift of the promised Holy Spirit in those days before Pentecost, we might ponder and wait and pray; pray for guidance, pray for wisdom, pray for discernment, pray that we might make the right decisions as far as we are able for peace and freedom, stability and security, progress and prosperity across our continent and across our world.