The power of forgiveness

When the Allied forces surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, Tony Lucas, who died recently, was one of 80,000 troops who became prisoners of war. For the next three and a half years he, along with many others, were slave labourers on the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway. Tony was one of 17,000 PoWs packed into Selarang barracks, which was designed to take 800, with all water supplies, barring one tap, disconnected to compel them to sign a pledge not to escape.

Tony was transported by rail to Thailand. Thirty prisoners were locked into each airless steel-roofed truck, in toxic heat. The journey lasted five days. Lucas thought he would die; several did. In Thailand, hacking out the 258-mile railway line, reveille was at 4.30am, followed by a three-mile march through the jungle to the area the Australians named “Hellfire Pass”. Men worked in pairs, alternately swinging a 7lb hammer and holding a 3ft iron bar. They never returned before 10.30pm.

He and the other prisoners survived on a daily ration of a cupful of degraded rice. Tony suffered dysentery, malaria and jungle ulcers; his weight dropped from 11-stone to 6. On his twenty-first bout of malaria, an Allied doctor gave him a massive dose of paludrine. After that he remained free from malaria, but contracted cholera whilst helping carry corpses out for burning. On one occasion a guard, who was nicknamed “The Undertaker” because he had killed prisoners with an iron bar, attacked Tony and knocked out 3 of his teeth.

After the war, Tony suffered nightmares and terrible bouts of depression. Understandably, he at first despised the Japanese. However, as he understood more he realised that it was the military in Japan and not the wider civilian population who were responsible for the atrocities. Later, in his work with an associate company of ICI, he visited Japan on business and showed a remarkable capacity to forgive the extreme suffering he experienced. A forgiving spirit is much more powerful than a spirit of hate and vengeance.

Tony was a private person who had a very deep Christian faith. His father was an Anglican clergyman and, from childhood, Tony had been taught about Jesus and his great love for a sinful world. Tony often prayed the Lord’s Prayer including the words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He also knew that when he was dying on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer remembered

This year we have been marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. We thank God for the many service men and women who courageously served in the Allied Forces against the Third Reich and the other Axis Powers. Many of them lost their lives in the conflict. There were also people in Germany who, both before and during the war, courageously stood against the power of Adolph Hitler.

One of them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor and theologian. As Hitler rose to power and his anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions intensified, Bonhoeffer, and others, united in opposition to him. They organised the Confessing Church that publicly announced its first allegiance to be to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer was banned from teaching theology and taught in an underground seminary at Finkenwalde until it was discovered and closed in 1937. Bonhoeffer went into hiding for two years and was banned from Berlin. Yet when synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned and demolished in November 1938 he went to Berlin.

In June 1939 Bonhoeffer left Germany to take a teaching post at Union Seminary, New York. Within a month, however, he returned to Germany and became a leader in the German underground movement. He raised money to enable Jewish refugees to be evacuated and was actively involved in seeking to undermine Hitler and his evil regime. The Gestapo arrested him in April 1943, soon after he had been engaged. In February 1945 he was transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp and was hanged at the Flossenbürg extermination camp on 9 April 1945, just days before the camp was liberated. He was 39 years old.

A camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he prayed and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

In 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship” that was a call to faithful and costly obedience to Jesus Christ. In it he wrote, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” His life and death are a great example of what it means to choose to follow Jesus Christ whatever the cost.

I will fear no evil, for you are with me

The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was a very moving event. Almost 2000 veterans were there, as well as many world leaders. They gathered at Sword beach in Normandy on a beautiful sunny day, under blue skies, to remember a very dark day when many soldiers died in terrible circumstances. The dignity of the veterans was striking as they stood by the graves of their fallen friends, shed tears, and spoke of their experiences. For many this would be their last visit to Normandy.

The soldiers in the Allied forces were part of the D-Day landings because they had been called up to serve in the armed forces. They were doing their duty to their country alongside friends from their communities and those with whom they had trained. Whilst they could not really envisage what the landings would be like, they knew they were facing great danger. They, and their comrades, were facing death or serious injury. Many would never return. They had to be brave and courageous, and to overcome their understandable fears. It was clear that, 70 years later, the painful memories of that day are still deeply etched on their memories.

David, who wrote Psalm 23, was a shepherd. He was the youngest of seven brothers and looked after his father’s sheep. One of his jobs was to protect the sheep from wild animals, like lions and bears. When Israel was being dominated by a neighbouring nation, the Philistines, David was called into action to fight the giant Goliath. Because the Lord was with him, David killed Goliath and delivered his people.

In Psalm 23 David reflects on the wonderful love of the Lord. He knew that life is not always “green pastures” and “still waters”. There are also dark days. So he wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Fear is a powerful influence on us all, and our greatest fear is death. The veterans, who saw their young comrades die in Normandy, have lived another 70 years, but they, and we all, must still walk through that dark valley. As we face “the last enemy” we need someone to be with us and to take away our fears. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only One who is great enough and kind enough to accompany us on that last journey of life and to bring us safely to his Father’s house in heaven.