November 11th. Armistice Day. The End of WWI.
For non-European readers, this is a very important day in most of Europe. In the States, we celebrate Veteran’s Day and on the surface, the Veteran’s Day and Armistice Day celebrations are similar. There is another side, however, here in Europe where Death is swirling about as a constant reminder during this season.
Halloween, though controversial still, has taken a foothold, it would seem, in France. That leads into All Saints Day (“Toussaint”) where, in France, a virtual pilgrimage to cemeteries all around the country takes place. Families come together throughout the day on November 1st, some having traveled long distances, to put chrysanthemums on the grave sites of their family members. It should also be noted that this is a major national holiday season with a week and a half off of school leading up to All Saints Day.
Then comes November 11th where in virtually every village and hamlet veterans from every war that are still living come together with local dignitaries and townsfolk around the one of the ubiquitous war memorials. Speeches are made, church services are held, bands play and choirs sing.
This is a multi-layered phenomenon; a fact which makes it difficult to judge with a black and white judgment: “This is a good thing.” or “This is a bad thing.” I’m not against honoring courage and sacrifice, nor do I question the sincerity of those who participate in any given ceremony. If one can take a step back, however, and look at the whole of the season together and down throughout history, it can give one pause.
If we begin to understand what “worship” is (take at look at Genesis 22, where worship is mentioned for the first time in the Bible to get an idea of what worship is at its foundations and you’ll be surprised at all the preparation and ceremony involved), you can begin to see that worship is exactly what’s going on here. Unfortunately, as in much of our lives, we’re not aware when our actions and our very lives offer up worship to all sorts of deities other than to the real King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
It’s also important to realize that we offer up worship not just as individuals but collectively as well. Many, many of the activities of our daily lives reinforce the momentum of the collective whole and we’re completely unaware of it. In fact, if we acted “individually” as much as we think we do, we’d notice the effect of “swimming upstream” pretty quickly. Interesting that God calls us, as disciples of Jesus, to act collectively, but in a way that is “swimming upstream” with much of our current culture. It’s called living in the Kingdom of God…about which Jesus had much to say.
Back to this interesting season here in Europe. This year was particularly interesting as Ramadan, the 30 days of Muslim prayer and fasting culminated during this season of death, and the recent riots in Paris and elsewhere in France began during this season.
All of this lead several intercessory groups to take a stand together in a “swimming upstream” action that was called the “Strange Act”. You can read the Biblical justification of this action and also an analysis on Halloween in this Word document. The long and short of it was that many people around Europe placed a rock…a plain ordinary rock…at local war memorials. These were in contrast with the beautifully sculpted war memorials themselves. This spoke of The Rock of Ages and the rock uncut by human hands spoken of in Daniel 2 that would signal an empire that would vanquish all human empires and last forever.
It was this we celebrated the night of November 11th when we went up to Viel Armand/Hartmanswillerkopf, the scene of one of the most contested points in WWI…a very short drive from our house. We went in the evening expecting that we could be in peace and perform our act before God in obedience. We had thought that this national military cemetery would have hosted its Armistice Day ceremony during the day…oops!
We came at about 5pm when the sun had already sunk below the tops of the peaks in the Vosges mountains. We were greeted by a multitude of military personnel carriers and soldiers everywhere. The public was out in force as well. We parked (and left our prophetic sword in the car!!!) and went up to the main memorial location. The sight that greeted us can only be described as “an altar” with a ceremony just about to get underway. With the light of dusk and the torches and “flame pots”, giving out a flame and black smoke, it presented a very surreal picture (the photo doesn’t really do it justice).
We waited, watched and prayed. At the end of the ceremony, we were able to place our rocks and worship the God of the living, not the dead and proclaim life in Alsace and Europe. (Rachel, far right in the picture). Later that evening, near midnight, I participated with another intercessory group that went to the highest point in Alsace, the Grand Ballon, where there is, you guessed it, a war memorial!
We climbed up by moonlight in a cloudless sky but with a ferocious wind! We placed our stones by the great monument and then worshiped and prayed.
God is the God of the living…not the dead!