Early in the morning of the week in 2014 that marked the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, I walked Omaha Beach with a friend and our wives. Only the four of us were present, and the peaceful silence was a stark contrast to the violent sounds that I imagined filled the air on the same beach on D-Day. Alone with our thoughts, we watched the empty sands and the tides ebb and flow untouched by human conflict.
It was a time to remember, and a time to reflect on the extraordinary sacrifices that took place on the beaches of France in 1944. The beaches … they were so much larger than I had imagined they would be, there was so much empty land to be crossed before the relative safety below the bluffs, a safety that was just an illusion until the bluffs above could be scaled and secured.
It was hallowed ground, walked in reverence to the price that had been paid there.
Not far away, on the bluffs overlooking the beaches, we saw evidence of that price when we walked among the thousands of Crosses and Stars of David that marked the graves of those who paid the price with their lives. You cannot visit the American Cemetery in Normandy and not be challenged by the small white Lasa marble crosses, in perfectly aligned rows that contrast with the green, immaculately trimmed grass that blanketed the former battlefield. It was a time to remember.
For Christians, this week marks another time to remember, a special time to recall another battlefield, another cross, and another tomb. Jesus’ final week didn’t begin in a violent assault, but a triumphant entry for the Prince of Peace. It began with shouted Hosannas and being welcomed as King. He shared one last supper with his friends, washed their feet as a servant would, then agonized with his Father. Then he was betrayed, falsely accused, torturously beaten, mocked, and executed on a rough-hewn Roman cross.
Like those who reflect silently on Omaha Beach, it is impossible to imagine the horror of what Jesus endured to win the Battle for our Salvation. Even the savage imagery of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ cannot capture the evil of what surrounded Jesus execution. Perfection offered up, so that perfection could be offered us. The One who created the world came into the world and the world rejected him – it executed him. Think about that. Think about the price that was paid when the Perfect One became a sacrifice. For us.
Here, though, the parallel ends between Omaha Beach and Golgotha, between the white marble crosses in an American Cemetery and a single blood-stained wooden cross on Calvary. More than nine thousand bodies are buried above Omaha Beach but there is only an empty tomb to remind us of the victory achieved on that solitary cross.
This week is a time to remember, reflect, rejoice, and join our voices with the countless millions who have celebrated the victory of the empty tomb with this declaration: He is Risen. He is Risen indeed.