Saturday, 8 November 2014

A Lesson in History (and the Future!)

 I got an un-graded mark in my GCE history when I was sixteen; it was my best subject and I was expected to get a high grade. I understand the examiner couldn't read my writing! What was the point of doing all that writing when it couldn't be understood?

As the years have gone by I've still got that deep love of history and important historical events. I remember standing by the Dakota building in New York City, feet from the place where John Lennon was murdered. In the same city we looked down from the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, two weeks before it was destroyed. In Paris I gazed down the tunnel that bore, on one of its columns, the still fresh scars of the place where Lady Diana's car had crashed. In Washington my wife Jenny and I stood at the graveside of President Kennedy, near to the simple cross that marked the grave of his murdered brother Bobby. Together we stood in the great rotunda of the Capitol building where President Kennedy's body had lain in state. In Cobh in southern Ireland we walked along the quayside that had been the departure point for small boats ferrying passengers out to the Titanic, anchored out in the deeper water of the estuary. In northern Germany I stood amongst the ice cold forests that surrounded the former death camp of Bergen-Belsen, flanked by a great number of mass graves, a testimony to the brutality of the Nazi regime. In Berlin, in the Olympic Stadium, I paused near the place where Hitler had encouraged the supremacy of the German race in the athletic field, only to see the great black athlete Jessie Owens win more than one gold medal. In Salem, U.S.A. we passed the place where the infamous witch trials had taken place; a town now hostage to those events, where even the police cars have witches on their doors.

Recently I travelled part of the coastline of southern Spain where one of my favourite authors, Laurie Lee, was rescued by a British warship and immortalised the event in the second part of his autobiography 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning'. In Barcelona we saw the still preserved bullet marks from that same Spanish civil war. In northern Belgium our train passed near to the great battlefields of the First World War. In Venice Jenny and I stood together in the great inner room of the Doge's Palace, the same room where Marco Polo had been given his commission to head East towards China. In Saltzburg, Austria, we sat and drank English tea below the plaque that marked the birthplace of Mozart.  Walking the ancient high street of the city of Ephesus in Turkey reminded me that the great apostle Paul had travelled this way. Visiting the remote island of Patmos, a tiny island in the Aegean Sea, we visited the cave where tradition says the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. I remember clearly passing through the valley in central Israel where David slew Goliath and also standing at the well south of Beersheba, on the edge of the Negev desert, where Abraham had dug one of his wells.

And it's Israel that of all these places is the most exciting. I remember the first time looking out of the cabin window as the big bird began its slow descent to Tel Aviv and seeing for the first time a rather plain, featureless coastline appear out of the mist and realising for the first time that this place of history, Israel, really existed. No longer was it confined to the pages of a book, a very special Book, but here, like all the other places I had visited, reality checked in. It really existed! But this was a country that was unique. For not only had I had the pleasure and inspiration of studying its history, I knew its future - because its future is firmly linked to the final purposes of God!

I loved my history lessons at school. But now I know and even greater future. Not one bone has been found of Jesus Christ! He's alive! The great I Am, the same yesterday, today and forever. He transcends history. He has no monument, no place. Yet He lives and His Life extends into His true Body, His Church. There are ruins, and places of battles and associations with famous people and events. But, given time all will pass into dust. But Christ remains and so does His true Church. Hallelujah!

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