Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
There have been many horrible stories come out of World War II. Some we have never heard of, and probably won’t. But it was a period of incredible suffering and carnage.
Like me, you may have relatives who went to war. But a fascinating story came my way lately and it’s not a nice story. In the frenzy of battle, and the death of colleagues, it wasn’t always possible to return their bodies to their homeland for burial. That was one tragic side of war away from home and loved ones. Many of them lay where they fell and died, and are only remembered today by anonymous graves.
In one battle in France where a group of US soldiers were fighting, a group of them approached a Catholic priest to ask if they could bury one of their fallen colleagues in the small countryside graveyard attached to the church. It seemed a reasonable request. To their astonishment, the priest turned them down for two reasons. First, the dead man was not a Catholic, and secondly there was no room in the already overcrowded graveyard. The men were deeply upset and, with heavy hearts, returned to their platoon. They had no choice than to bury their friend just beyond the small wooden fence that marked the cemetery boundary, and put up a simple cross to mark the burial spot.
In a few months the war came to an end. The company prepared for the journey home. But they longed to return to the grave once more for a last goodbye to their dead friend. They travelled back to the church. The cemetery looked just the same, but try as they may, they couldn’t see any sign of the simple wooden cross. They walked around and around the perimeter, feeling very angry. Surely the priest hadn’t removed this simple memorial to their dead friend. So they ran towards the church to challenge the priest.
But as they got closer, the priest came out to meet them: “I’m so glad you have returned. After you left, I was troubled by my decision. I saw the dignified way you buried your friend. I can sense the anguish my decision caused you. I couldn’t change the fact that the cemetery was full. So I decided to solve the problem a different way. I moved the boundary fence a meter or two so that your friend’s grave is now within the graveside itself. I hope you can forgive me”.
I think this is a powerful story. It actually happened amidst the horror and devastation of war.
We Need to Treat Everyone With Respect
This story is all about being inclusive. Church traditions in the past have not been inclusive, especially in the 1940s and 50s. Sometimes the church was very narrow-minded, excluding others, as it did at the start of the soldier’s experience in France. My own parents were married in the late 1940s, both being of different religious backgrounds. That was frowned upon by some clergy back then. You had to belong to a certain church. Thank goodness that narrow-minded attitude has changed today. We have become all inclusive, accepting each other in a more open and transparent manner.
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Romans 2:11 (The Voice) in the New Testament says, “God has no favorites”. It’s a simple statement, and yet powerful as well. God loves and accepts every person on this planet, regardless of their religious affiliation, or lack of. He loves the atheist as much as the committed churchgoer. Throughout the entire Bible you see the theme that God is no respecter of persons. In the Old Testament, he accepts the foreigner and gives them the same options for being joined to the nation Israel. World history shows that cultures treated women like they were livestock or property, but Jesus valued women and treated them as co-heirs and co-equals and in God’s eyes, women and men are both equal before him.
So too, we should treat those who are poor, of a different nationality, or in any way are different from us with the same regard as God does. He is no respecter of persons; there is no partiality with God. It’s not our job to judge others. That is God’s job. In God’s eyes we are all on an equal level—I’m not better than you. There is not a single person in this world who is worthless or no good. Every person is created by God, and has special talents and abilities that no-one else in the world has. The Bible explains that humans are “made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26).
Thank God we live in a more open and helpful community despite differing viewpoints, we can still do our best to get on, treating others with the respect they deserve.