Tonight I witnessed an amazing event. I stood beneath the roof of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium with about 1000 other people from many nations of the world. Multiple generations were represented and we were all here to witness a nightly occurrence.
Every evening at 8pm the Last Post is played. It is provided by a variety of different musical groups and individuals and the ceremony lasts about 5 mins. This has happened every day, rain hail or shine, since the end of WW1 (except for a period of time during WW2) and is done to honour the many, many lives lost fighting in this region.
On the walls are inscribed the names of 54,896 soldiers who have known to be killed in action here, but whose burial location remains unknown. It happens here as almost every fighting man would have marched through these gates to reach their battle objective.
The noise before the service started included British, Scottish, French, Dutch, Canadian and other voices which reminds me of the far reaching impact these battles had. Tonight’s ceremony included bugling, silence, the Ode, wreath laying and an acapella choir. People were respectful and I had tears, as did many others.
This observance happens for us after a few days of visiting battle sites and military cemeteries at places like Villers-Brittaneux, Pozieres and Fromelles. At each location I have had great difficulty in being able to begin to comprehend the horrors of what these young people faced and the enormity of the loss of life. At Fromelles alone, more Australians were lost in just over 24 hrs than in any other conflict.
I know I have written about the importance of honoring this gift of sacrifice that was offered for our freedom before. To say that I have been affected by these visits is an understatement. I do not feel worthy. How am I living to do justice for what they gave up?
To offer your life in exchange for another’s freedom, whether they deserve it or not is the message at the heart of the life and death of Jesus. He chose to die so I might live, and as I witness these WW1 sites firsthand I am grateful for their sacrifice, but even more so for His.
And just as so many languages could be heard at the Gate tonight, Jesus sacrifice knows no national boundaries. His death was for all. How do I know? Jesus tells us Himself, as recorded in Luke chapter 13 verse 29: “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
The message of sacrificial love moves me to tears when I allow its significance to sink in. Take some time to soak it up too.