Moving Forward

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On June 6, 1944 – D-Day – Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, to begin the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s Third Reich.
The beaches were not created equal. 
Pointe du Hoc is an imposing limestone bluff between the Omaha and Utah landing sites.  Atop its 100-foot cliffs, the Germans installed guns that were capable of lobbing shells into Allied landing vessels more than 10 miles offshore.  It fell to a group of 225 U.S. Army Rangers to scale the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc early that morning in order to neutralize that weaponry.
The Rangers trained for five months.  Two minutes were allotted to climb those 100 feet, hopefully enveloped by the element of surprise.
Lots of things went wrong.
A strong current delayed the landings on the narrow beach.  The Germans became alerted to the attack and had 30 minutes to prepare defensive positions.  A number of the Rangers were killed or drowned when their landing craft came under fire. 
The ladders, incredibly, didn’t reach all the way to the top.  German defenders fired machine guns and threw grenades at the climbers.  And a group of 500 reinforcements was accidentally diverted to another landing site. 
For all that, the Rangers succeeded.  They fought their way to the top…only to discover that the guns weren’t there.  They had been relocated and hidden about a half mile away, which necessitated another firefight. 
After two days of almost continual combat, Pointe du Hoc was in Allied hands.  But the cost had been high.  Only 90 of the Rangers were still standing. 
Most Americans have never heard of Pointe Du Hoc.  But the almost superhuman efforts of those few men helped secure the Allied victory in Europe.
The overall Allied mission on D-Day had been to occupy Normandy’s high ground by the end of June 6.  If they could accomplish that task – and they did – the war would be over.  It would only be a matter of time before German resistance collapsed – something that happened 11 months later.
A number of years ago, at the church that I was serving, I used the D-Day invasion as an illustration of what God did by sending Jesus into the world.  Jesus’ arrival established a beachhead for the reign of God.  And once God’s reign – God’s reclaiming of the world – really began, there would be no stopping it.  It’s just a matter of time.
After the service one of our oldest members, Maxine, paused to speak with me.  “Thank you for your comments this morning.  I know what you were trying to say.  Once the Allies had landed in Normandy, the war, in principle, was over.”
Then she went on, “But my husband landed at Normandy.  And he died a few weeks later in the hedgerow fighting in France.  The outcome of the war may have been settled, but every day still brought terrible losses.”
Maxine was so right. 
Jesus’ mission is ultimately going to succeed.  God is reclaiming this world – life by life and heart by heart – every day.  But in a mystery that we cannot fully comprehend, God also assures us that we still have to do the work.  Life is difficult.  We will all face struggles.  God has assigned us the task of moving forward, often at what feels like costs that are too great to bear.
Memorial Day is our annual opportunity to offer thanks for those who were willing to bear such costs, even to lay down their lives as the ultimate sacrifice. 
Every day we cling to two certainties:
God’s work of redeeming this broken world is going to succeed.
And by God’s grace the work we do today on God’s behalf – even if we only move a few feet forward – truly matters.