I’ve been studying the First World War from the point of view of the men and women who served and fought in it. It’s a devastating story that I never learned in school. My grandfather (whom I never met) served in that war. He went with his best friend and, lying about his age because he was only 15, he enlisted in the Marine Corps almost the same week that the United States entered the war in Europe. Within a year he found himself in the front lines of the Battle of Belleau Woods on the Verdun Front in the first major American offensive of the war. There he was gassed with mustard gas, lost a leg, and eventually was sent home with a purple heart and 2 bronze stars. He came home alone, his best friend having died on one of those battlefields in France. He was 16 years old.
It’s hard to wrap my mind around the horrors of that war. I’ve read enough to believe that I would not have survived, neither body nor soul. My grandfather survived and went on to live a long life. He learned to dance on his wooden leg, to love a woman and to have children with her. I know almost nothing more about him, because the woman he loved and lived with was not my grandmother; that first marriage didn’t survive. But I think about him a lot. I think about how young he was, and how his youth was taken from him, and how hard his life was when he got back, and about the hell that war must have been for him. By every testimony I have read, what they called “The Great War” was an experience of hell such that we will never understand.
And here we are, still sending young men (and now young women too) to war, to different kinds of hell, but hell it is all the same. My heart breaks for what we all have lost in this never-ending march to war after war.
So I pray tonight for the tortured souls who are so filled with anger and hatred that they wage war on the innocent. I pray for the people in power – whether huddled in tents in desert places or sitting in great halls of powerful governments or in sterile corporate offices – who use their power to consign others to a hell of their making. And I pray for the innocent who suffer and for the merely confused who don’t understand what they are doing. I guess in the end, I’m praying for all of us. I pray that the Holy, Just, and Merciful God will deliver us all from evil, and that the peaceable kingdom will come soon.
Meanwhile, may the peace of the Lord bless you and keep you tonight. Thanks for listening.