Called to the Desert: Marching to Berlin
On April 11, 1945 American forces liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. When Allied soldiers arrived, they witnessed a horrifying sight. One serviceman, Harry J. Herder, Jr., recounted that “slowly, as we formed up, a ragged group of human beings started to creep out of and from between the buildings in front of us.” An emaciated mass of people—starving, dying, and clothed in meager rags—stared in awed disbelief at the new arrived forces.
Prior to the coming of the U.S. Army, news of the Allied victory at Normandy rapidly advanced. The men, women, and children enchained at Buchenwald met the news with eager hope. Maybe freedom was possible?
With the Allied soldiers standing before them, the prisoners’ prayers marched into their sight. One inmate who spoke English stepped forward and asked if the soldiers were American. According to Herder’s recollection, the enlisted men responded that they “were, and the reaction of the whole mass was immediate: simultaneously on their faces were relaxation, ease, joy, and they all began chattering to us in a babble of tongues that we couldn’t answer.” Palpable relief settled over the gaunt prisoners.
Soon the liberating Americans were erecting field hospitals, distributing supplies, and offering any ration that could be spared. Though an unfathomable number of victims were claimed by the Nazi force at Buchenwald, the surviving captives had gained renewed freedom. Five short days later, Berlin would fall and World War II would come to its overdue conclusion
Marching to Berlin
The world today lies enchained in evil’s camp. Every man, woman, and child to draw breath from this earth has marched through the yard of that prison. While we were still captives, however, a sweet word came to us on the winds: “Christ is risen.”
This liberating message, commemorated every Easter, is the epochal call of a new era in world history. This time period is marked by God’s kingdom breaking into our world. C.S. Lewis likens this scenario to D-Day. On this historic date the Allied forces established a beachhead in Nazi-held Europe. Because of that battle won, America and her allies could liberate the land held captive to Hitler. When the residents of Nazi-occupied land heard the good news of the Allied victory at Normandy, the listeners knew Germany’s dominion was crumbling. Many bitter battles would be fought before Berlin fell, however.
In a similar way, Christ’s death and resurrection established God’s beachhead in our world. Satan’s kingdom is crumbling, and we know that our final triumph is coming. While this victory is guaranteed, it is many bitter battles away. Situated between two moments—the victory initiated at D-Day and culminated in Berlin—we are like the Allied soldiers fighting fiercely to the end; we are stuck between those two days. As we fervently await God’s final kingdom, what does it look like to live the tension between D-Day and Berlin’s fall?
When the Desert is a Battlefield
At Christ’s resurrection, our restoration began. The chains of addiction that once bound us were broken. No longer are we slaves to sin. On that day, prisoners became warriors.
Moreover, the God who broke our shackles has made us his children. When this Lord looks on us, he feels the same love that he lavishes on his Son, Jesus.
As we form our identities around these great truths, God gives us his Holy Spirit to confirm their unending reality. We are truly free, we lovingly belong, and we are eternally sealed. This is what we have already.
We still wait for our final resurrection, however. As we look toward that day, certain bitter realities confront us. Though sin no longer owns us, it is an unrelenting foe. As we struggle against this resilient evil, we will sometimes fail and we will sometimes feel we fight alone; we will forget that our redeemed brothers and sisters combat alongside us. We will even lose sight of our warrior King laboring on our behalf. This is the painful reality of the final victory that is not yet.
We live in the tension of a glorious future foreseen, yet still unseen. We fight for an eternal life by faith beheld, yet still by our hands unheld. This life, sometimes a desert, is also a battlefield. Though the struggle is fierce, we remember that Berlin will eventually fall.