Wednesday was December 7th, a date that President Roosevelt said would live in infamy. And it has. Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This year, the anniversary of that event fell only three days after churches all over the world lit the candle of peace on the second Sunday of Advent.
So on Wednesday night December 7th, during our REST prayer service, I reminded those gathered in our sanctuary of both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the peace candle of Advent, and then I told the story of a favorite hymn of Advent, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a Latin antiphon, an ancient chant used in Christian worship dating back to the first centuries of the early church. Five verses in the “Emmanuel” antiphon were first translated into English in the 1850s.
Later, in 1916, Presbyterian minister Henry Sloane Coffin translated two more verses into English as some of the fiercest battles of World War I were raging.
There were no battles more fierce than the Battle of Verdun. It began in February of 1916 and continued for 11 months. With Germans on one side and the French on the other, trench warfare and the use of chemical weapons made the fighting long and especially brutal.
The French and Germans combined to suffer more than 900,000 casualties at Verdun alone, and when the battle ended neither side had gained a clear victory.
Of the battle, a French lieutenant wrote, "Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!”
And later, French historian Antoine Prost would compare the horrors of Verdun to the horrors of Auschwitz.
In the middle of one of the most gruesome battles the world has ever seen, Henry Sloane Coffin translated the last two verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” into English this way:
“O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
“O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel."
Last Wednesday evening, after thinking for just a moment about the enduring juxtaposition of war and peace in our world, we ended our service as we do each Wednesday by celebrating the Lord’s Supper together.
Over the last several months I’ve been telling the people who come to REST on Wednesday nights that there’s something special and holy about gathering to pray—together; and something holy and formative about the shared and repeated act of celebrating the Lord’s Supper—together.
On Wednesday night, as I watched my friends and fellow church members quietly line up once again to eat the bread and drink the cup—together, I remembered that we have done this faithfully—together—for weeks now. And I thought about the different life paths that had brought each of us to that moment—together—and something holy clicked in me.
We don’t offer anything at REST except for soft music and a quiet place to sit. There’s nothing glitzy about it. But it does offer each of us the chance to aim for something holy--together--if only for thirty minutes.
You can pray alone. You can sing hymns alone. You can read scripture alone. You can consider God’s presence in war and peace alone. You can celebrate the Lord’s Supper alone. You can wait for Christmas alone.
But you can't work for peace alone. That's something that has to be done together.
So we pray and sing and read and listen and celebrate--together; and we wait and work--together--until the whole world is filled with heaven's peace.
Today I’m grateful for the faithful folks who join me each Wednesday night to REST and aim for peace—together.
See you Sunday.