Tuesday, November 05, 2019

A Bridge Too Far?

I vividly remember being taken to see A Bridge Too Far. We saw it in the old Royal Playhouse cinema in Tenby when on holiday back in 1977. The film boasted a stellar cast including Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and Lawrence Olivier among the Brits and Gene Hackman, Ryan O’Neal and Robert Redford among the Yanks. The action was grippingly realistic, showing the heroism and tragedy of war. The plot told the story of Operation Market Garden, which took place 75 years ago from 17-25 September 1944.  It was hoped that by capturing key bridges over the River Rhine in Dutch occupied territory, that the Allies would then be able to press on into Germany. The war would be over by Christmas. The operation, brainchild of Field Marshall Montgomery, was an epic failure. The Allies met stiffer resistance than expected from occupying German troops. The attempt to seize the bridge at Arnhem by British Paratroopers indeed proved to be a ‘bridge too far’. The film has since come to be regarded as a classic British Word War Two movie and has been shown countess times on TV. War historians continue to discuss why Montgomery’s ambitious strategy failed. There’s a local connection here too. Gliders used in Operation Market Garden took off from Wiltshire airfields. We hope to hear more about that at our Remembrance Evening on 7 November, 7.30pm at Providence Baptist Chapel (scroll down the News & Events page). 

A costly epic failure. Perhaps some people view Jesus and his mission in those terms. He began his public ministry proclaiming the coming of a new kingdom. In this kingdom sinners were embraced and the self-righteous excluded, the humble would be lifted up and the proud brought low. Expectations were raised that God was going to do something big. Crowds flocked to hear Jesus’ teaching and witness the miracles he performed. Yet we know how it ended. Jesus’ enemies plotted to have him put to death. His closest followers forsook him. He was crucified at the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Before they crucified him Roman soldiers mocked Jesus, draping him in purple robe and thrusting a crown of thorns upon his head. Then they crucified him. Crucifixion was a shameful death, reserved only for common criminals and slaves. Above his head as Jesus hung on the cross was written the inscription, ‘This is the King of the Jews’.  The kingdom of God? Another one of history’s costly epic failures.

Or was it? Jesus specifically commanded his disciples not to take up arms to stop him being arrested and executed. He went to the cross willingly, knowing that it was God’s plan that he should suffer and die. Jesus came to lay down his life for the sins of the world. Only because he died for us could sinners be welcomed into God’s kingdom and the humble be raised up. That was the central message of the first Christian preachers. They didn’t try to downplay the fact that Jesus had been crucified, they positively gloried in it. What seemed to have gone so wrong was in fact God’s way of putting us right with him. The cross wasn’t a ‘bridge too far’. Rather, by his death Jesus bridged the gap between sin-broken humanity and a perfectly righteous and holy God. By faith in Christ countless millions of people all around the world have experienced forgiveness and peace with God. The message of Jesus continues to ring out, "The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!"

* For Trinity and News & Views parish magazines 

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