The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…
November 11th used to be called Armistice Day commemorating the cease fire with Germany on November 11th, 1918. That date signaled the end of WWI. In 1954 the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to celebrate the service of all U.S. military veterans. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.
One hundred years later we still live in a world plagued with sin and violence. The shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas this past week grimly reminds us of the presence of sin in our world. You and I realize that true and lasting peace comes only through Jesus Christ. It is because of the Prince of Peace that we find joy and rest, even in the midst of sin and tragedy in life.
I want to share with you a portion of a letter that J. Gresham Machen wrote to his mother in 1918. Machen, one of the founders of the OPC, was stationed in France. He was not serving with the military, but instead working with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) serving in various capacities. I hope you enjoy this letter from someone on the front lines of battle who took joy in the peace of 1918.
Nov. 14, 1918
My Dearest Mother:
The Lord’s name be praised! Hardly before have I known what true Thanksgiving is. Nothing but the exuberance of the psalms of David accompanied with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings could begin to do justice to the joy of this hour. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” It seems as though the hills must break forth into singing. Peace at last, and praises to God!
On the evening of the tenth of November I was again at the front. Little news had been coming through about the progress of negotiations. Without a doubt you were far better and far more promptly informed in Baltimore. There were rumors, but they could not be definitely confirmed; other rumors have often disappointed us. Was there hope of an immediate peace? We did not know.
I was to spend the night in a little house near a dressing-station where we hoped to serve the wounded with hot chocolate. We were in the midst of our own artillery, which made the most infernal noise that I ever listened to. There was absolutely no cellar or dugout in which to take refuge, and I thought the German reply would blow us to pieces. Shells had been landing in the environs during the day; in the early part of the evening a man was slightly wounded just at the door of the house where I was staying. But although the whistle of the German shells could be heard from time to time, in general things became quieter as the night wore on. I got some sleep on the floor of our little hovel. Then rumors began to come in. The armistice is signed. At four o’clock the French could be heard singing in their quarters. When I poked my head in they said that the news was not official. But somehow there was a new atmosphere of hope. With the morning light the news was confirmed. Firing was to cease at 11 A.M. Meanwhile there was quiet. A strange peacefulness pervaded the air. The walk to the Y.M.C.A. canteen, which the night before had been hideous with the flash and roar of the guns and arriving shells was now safe as though were were at home. I shall never forget that morning. Perhaps, one might regret not having been at Paris when the stupendous news came in. But I do not think I regret it. We heard indeed, no clamor of joyful bells, no joyful shouts, no singing of the Marseillaise. But we heard something greater by far — in contrast with the familiar roar of war — namely the silence of that misty morning. I think I can venture upon the paradox. That was a silence that could really be heard. I suppose it was the most eloquent, the most significant silence in the history of the world. About noon I took a walk out through the village to what had recently been the German position. Instead of the sinister appearance of a front-line town, with streets deserted or occupied only by men walking warily close to the walls, the place had almost taken on a holiday appearance. Of course the great gaping holes in the homes were still there, the pedestrian’s feet would still crunch into the broken glass scattered by recent shells, but people were walking freely about as though life has begun. But joy should not be careless or exuberant, the dead were being brought in just as I passed, and along the road an occasional poor fellow was lying who would never hear the news of peace. It seemed almost impossible. On that exuberant joyful morning when the whole world was shouting, what possible place was there for death and sorrow? God knows and He alone. Meanwhile I felt more humble but not the less thankful.
—From Letters from the Front, J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War I.
Transcribed and edited by Barry Waugh.
God knows and He alone. Sometimes we don’t know why joy and shouting and death and sorrow dwell in the same time and space. God does. May we humbly give thanks to our Sovereign God. And may our greatest thanks be reserved for the grace and mercy given to us that we do not deserve.