At sunset and sunrise, a soldier in the field will be told to ‘Stand to’.
These periods — just before sunset, when the light is dimming and it’s harder to see the enemy approach; or just before dawn, when the night is at its darkest, until the sun has broken over the horizon and the day’s routine begins — are the two times when a unit in the field is at its most vulnerable.
Night vision equipment doesn’t function well and the human eye struggles to adjust to the changes in the light. They are also the most nerve-wracking periods for an infantry soldier. The whole unit will be ‘stood to’.
At Easter we remember Christ’s death, the dark night of sin that came on the world when man put to death the only Son of God. It was the day when nails where driven into Christ’s hands and the innocent One became sin for man’s sake. But we look back and know it was not only the darkest of days, but also the most wonderful and greatest day in history.
But imagine standing there at the cross, seeing Christ hung there, the man you have followed, the One you knew would bring God’s kingdom. Even though the disciples were told by Jesus that he would rise from the dead, it must have seemed so dark — darker than any ‘stand to’ time for a soldier.
Even the sun was hidden. The earth shook and what an ominous sign it must have been when the Temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom! None of Jesus’ followers expected to see him rise from the dead. Although his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, it was only to dress the dead body of Jesus, not to find the living Lord.
I have had many conversations about which historic battle I would most like to have seen. There are so many great battles, such as Hastings or the Somme; or maybe Nelson or Wellington commanding their ships or men. However, since becoming a Christian, I’d rather go back and see the greatest battle of all — that battle on the cross where the Son of God defeated death and died to take the sins of the world upon himself.
The cross at Calvary is where I would go. What would I experience as I see the Lord of lords die a real and painful death for me? Perhaps I’d feel the darkness, hear all the mocking voices and despair for him who hung next to thieves in the place of sinners like me? How sad if it had all ended there!
Glorious new day
But the dawn was coming. Light had come into the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. The Light of the World died to pay the price of sin, so that man might live again in the sight of God. As he burst forth from the tomb, alive and glorified, Jesus proved without a doubt that he is indeed ‘Immanuel, God with us’.
This Easter we look back to that glorious day with thanksgiving and worship in our hearts; and we look forward to the great and terrible day of the Lord ‘when the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings’, when there is no more darkness. We shall be with Jesus and see him face to face. There will be no more waiting for the dawn, as our light for eternity will be Jesus himself.
This year marks 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door, sparking the Reformation. It was gospel light breaking forth, a returning to the Bible and to the foundation of the Christian faith.
May this Easter not be about chocolate eggs or lamb dinners (two of my favourite things!), but may there be a focus upon Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’ who was slain and yet now lives.
As soldiers of Christ we must now ‘stand to’, and guard the good which has been deposited within each one of us — the gospel — proclaiming the love of God in Jesus Christ to all. This Easter, as the sun rises, as the shout goes out, ‘He is risen. He is risen indeed!’, may our hearts cry out, ‘Come Immanuel. Come!’
Army Scripture Reader Gavin Dickson
The Soldiers’ & Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association