Today marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme. The soldiers found out the day before that ‘zero hour’ was at 7:30am. At 7:30am they climbed ‘over the top’ and ran – as far as they could. On that first day 60,000 British troops were killed. By November one million – 1,000,000 – men of both sides were wounded or killed.
There is a memorial in France to remember the 70,000 who went missing. In other words, they were so blown to bits that there was nothing identifiable left. How do we even begin to process these kinds of numbers?
The day before the battle began a group of men prayed for themselves and their comrades, they prayed for their loved ones back home, and then they did something rather extraordinary: they prayed for the men they were about to fight, and their loved ones, too. They asked God to help them do nothing out of revenge.
Many of these young men were perhaps a year or two older than my son. Those who made it home again had been through so much they must have come home old, old men. I cannot imagine my own dear boy in the same circumstances. All that innocent, youthful hope and optimism blasted away with the roar of untold circles of hell. It’s just so awful. I look at the world today, what with the racism, refugees, poverty, exploitation and war, and I wonder if we, humanity, have learned anything at all.
This is why Christ told us to pray for our enemies. It is not merely a pleasant or noble sentiment. Praying for our enemies is so radically unlike the schisms of war it can only reflect the God of grace. So much needed Grace. I wonder how many tears He wept over all those young men?
Love: it’s not optional.