Where I am now on a foreign shore I stand every week.
So a riddle for you: “Where I am now on a foreign shore, I stand every week.” Incidentally, the ancient Hebrews loved riddles, such as the one which appears on Lyle’s Golden Syrup when Samson gets the better of the Philistines and wins thirty sets of clothes. That’s about as many as Jacqui has packed in our car. And Jesus himself enjoyed using riddles, to puzzle us with paradoxes.
“Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
“So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16). It gets you thinking. And now the answer you’ve all been waiting for: CAEN. We are spending one night at this splendid Ibis before heading south to the Vendée. For where I stand every week (almost) is our pulpit at Christ Church, now about to enter its 150th year. Thanks to the University of California libraries, accessible online, I quote from the Annals of Aughton (published 1893) in describing the newly-built “chapel of ease” at the end of Long Lane: “The pulpit of Caen stone, with marble shafts to the columns, and panels carved in alabaster.” This is followed by a detailed description of the various panels and angles. Apparently Caen stone, mined just down the road from here, is invariably homogeneous, and therefore suitable for carving. It would seem that the stone from the Moss Delph quarry just wasn’t upto the job. Clearly only the best would do for the Rev William Henry Boulton, the Rector of Aughton 1834 - 1885. His was the vision to see the Gospel preached which made the building of Christ Church possible. Such was the value placed on preaching that only the best pulpit was good enough! But not only our pulpit comes from Caen. Some 72 years ago Caen was the key objective for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. The original aim was the capture of Caen on day one. However, the battle plan did not go to plan (they never do). Instead, the German forces devoted nearly all of their reserves to holding Caen, particularly their armoured divisions, whatever costs. It was far too important to lose. With the result that that the battle for Caen dragged on for two costly months. In fact where I am writing this blog, 1 Rue du Fresne, was the site of some terrible fighting. Just down the road is Hill 112 which the Germans did their best to hold during Operation Epsom. And some miles to the south of here, on 9 August 1944 fell James “Ritchie” Harrison, of Wellbank Villas, Liverpool Road. He was killed by shell blast while laying radio communications under shell fire on banks of Orne. I featured his story in the Remembrance Day service of 2006. A member of our church, young Ritchie was baptised in our font. The irony was that the font, like the pulpit, is made from Caen stone, quarried very close to where he fell. By then the battle for Normandy was effectively over. The previous day, 8 August, 50,000 soldiers of the German 7th Army were trapped in the Falaise pocket. And that was it. Within just two weeks Paris was liberated and the way to Berlin lay wholly open. (It was logistics rather than German opposition which stayed the advance). Caen was the definitive battle – the key objective for the Allies and a strategic defence for the Germans. Who held Caen held the Western front. And who held the Western front would determine how WW2 would end. Similarly, Golgotha. The cross of Jesus was the key confrontation between the Kingdom of God and the dominion of darkness, a battle to the very end. As John tells us: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8). And the cross was to be, in the words of CS Lewis, the Final Battle. The resurrection victory of Jesus changed everything. It’s effectively all over – the road to Berlin is open. As the apostle Paul writes: “But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” (1 Corinthians 15:57). We are now called – by God's grace - to enter into this victory, to claim the triumph of Calvary as our own. Amazingly we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37) Of course, we are not there yet. Spiritual warfare continues – but we know the outcome. And as we head over the spiritual equivalent of the plains of northern Europe we do so with a confidence knowing that death and its associates has been swallowed up in victory. And that changes everything. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)