Early on Easter Monday in 1917 the Battle of Vimy Ridge commenced amid the sleet and mud in France. It was the culmination of years of stalemate, failures and loss, as well as extensive reconnaissance, planning and training. This strategic high ground along the western front of the first world war was valued for the commanding view over the battle-plagued plains around it. In the initial advance of 1914, the Germans had taken this prominent 9 km long escarpment, and in the intervening years, over 100 000 French and British soldiers had given their lives in attempts to retake it. Now the Canadian soldiers were ordered to seize this fortified ridge. By late afternoon, three of the divisions had accomplished their objectives and most of the heavily defended ridge was in Canadian hands. But the high points remained in German control. Without capturing these two vantage points, the Canadians would not be able to hold their line. It took three days, critical reinforcements, and many soldiers were wounded or died, but the Allies prevailed. It was a spectacular, costly victory.
What was so important about this hill that 3 598 soldiers were compelled to advance on it, to die? Some say it wasn’t actually that significant in the grand scheme of the war, that it was actually a failure as a tactical diversion, that the gain of a few kilometers of land was trivial. Was its only legacy the birth of our national identity, where all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought as a single formation? Were the courage and sacrifice otherwise for naught? Or is any battle to gain the high ground, to fight for freedom and peace always worth the cost?
Freedom is the hill to die on. It is so important, that despite the difficulty, pain and cost, pursuing freedom with wholehearted conviction is always worth it. The view from the top of that hill is worth fighting for. It is a battle in which we must never concede even an inch of advantage.
There was another battle of epic proportions that was fought for freedom, on another hill, many years before Vimy. It was on a hill called Golgotha. And its significance was eternal.
What compelled Jesus to walk up that hill to die? It was not the whips, nor the authority of the Roman guard. It was not the madness of the taunting crowd. The Jewish officials, the chief priests and Pharisees may have felt smug in their innocence since they had coerced Pilate, the Roman governor, to condemn Jesus to death. But it was not their calls to “crucify him” that set feet in motion to follow Jesus to the top of that hill.
Jesus had intentionally, resolutely, set his face to Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him there. He was not murdered. He was not a martyr. It was his choice to obey his father, and give up his own perfect life and die on that hill. Why would he willingly do this? What was at the top of the hill, capturing it and holding it, was so important that regardless of the cost, he would do it. He knew it was the only way to win lasting freedom.
The path to this hill began in a garden. Adam and Eve were given a choice to obey their loving Creator. They chose lies over truth, fear over love. Captives now to sin, their relationship with God was broken. The path to restore it would lead through deserts and dark places to death. For a moment on this hill, it looked like the darkness had won, but what was obscured was only the depths to which Jesus was willing to go to fight for our freedom. He would not concede. He would give his life to defend the light, the cross would be the way for love to win. This was his hill to die on.
And he did.
Then in another garden, the light re-emerged, angels announced the victory. The line had held. The blood stained cross and the empty tomb now symbols of the finished redemptive work, the Kingdom come. And the King declared victory with one word: Peace.
At the top of that hill is the one thing worth dying for. And worth living for: the cross of Jesus Christ. The truth of the good news of the gospel is this: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has accomplished it all. Truth triumphs over lies, love conquers fear, we can live in peace. Free to choose life, free to choose love, free to follow our Savior and King.
Jesus won the victory at the top of that hill, and as his followers, we are enlisted to defend that truth until he comes again. The cross on that hill was his alone to die on. It was only his precious blood that could forgive our sins, cover our guilt and answer the accusations of the evil one. It was our sin, but his life was substituted for ours to restore our broken relationship with God. There is no other name by which we will be saved.
Next to an empty cross, above an empty tomb, be filled with unwavering conviction that Jesus is King, Lord and Savior - his authority is ultimate.
Never surrender to any power but Jesus. Never concede an inch of truth. Next to an empty cross, above an empty tomb, be filled with unwavering conviction that Jesus is King, Lord and Savior - his authority is ultimate. Choose to hold that line without compromise. And on that hill – stand and live. He is light and life and love. He is our freedom and our peace.
His victory on this hill gives us the freedom to choose: will we surrender at the foot of the cross and worship him alone?
Bonnie and her family live in Winnipeg, Manitoba where she is involved with teaching/ tutoring/writing resources in math in Manitoba.
This article was originally published in The Recorder, Vol 59 no. 2