Texte correspondant en français : La quatrième armée
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13
- THE 4TH ARMY DURING WORLD WAR I (1914-1918)
There were four armies involved in the first world war: the land force, the birds army as the air force was called at the time – it was then a new military force -, the finance army, because a war involves the spending of huge funds to maintain its effort, and there was a forgotten fourth force: the army of the nurses. That last formation was also called the army of charity. We are used to commemorating the feat of arms, the battlefields, the wounded, and the deaths of brave men who fought against the enemy. In so doing, we perhaps appeal to our inner masculinity, which pushes us to fight, to defeat the other and therefore, to win. However, we forget this silent and voluntary army of nurses on the front lines. In 1915, in France, it was no less than 70 000 women who joined the 30 000 already trained nurses who already worked in the Red Cross Society. Thousands of unexperienced British women joigned the fighting troops to provide the necessary support to the increasing number of injured. In Germany as well, thousands of nurses struggled to provide medical assistance.
Their courage, dedication, comfort, help, and self-giving were their only weapons. Their only strength were to be close to the wounded. They gave the necessary comfort to the suffering men. They also, and often, were close to them to accompany dying one to their last breath. Some veterans compared them to white angels; the pain, the moaning, the crying, the fear itself, then gave way to laughter, amusement, and teasing when a nurse walked into the room. They became a moral support to those confined to bed.
2. TO LAY DOWN ONE’S LIFE FOR OTHER
Once more, Jesus offers a magnificent expression of His love when He declares: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Wether we are Christians or not, believers or not, this sentence alone expresses the depth of a peculiar love: that of giving one’s life for those whom one loves. It is unecessary to ask ourselves if we will be able to give our life for a friend or a loved one. Some people worry about wether or not they would be sacrificing their lives for others, but that is not the issue raised by Jesus. As a friend who, during the Second World War, worked to the salvation of Jewish people in Holland at the risk of his life said to me the circumstances made me act as I did. He wanted to save these people and he did it. In like manner, these women who came from many parts of the world, did not realized their fate. They were moved by one desire: to releave pain, to comfort suffering lives.
As Jesus discusses with His disciples about mutual support and brotherly love, He testifies His love for them: a love that will drive Him to death. He makes it clear (v. 26) that something will happen. He announces that someone else will come after him (John 15:26). He explains that he will depart. Somewhat later, he tells them his destination, he must go to his Father (John 16:5). A depart that will benefit them. We know from the Scriptures what will happen to him on the Cross (John 19:18). Xrist is crucified for the salvation of humanity and, therefore, the reconciliation with God. Jesus is more than a rescuer, He is the Savior. If I may write, he monetizes our life by giving his own life so we may be free from what would have devoted everyone to debt.
These nurses, as well as the medical body altogether, sacrificed their lives to save wounded people from the battlefield. They company the dying soldiers for whom there was nothing else to do apart from being there, beside them. They are the reflection of this gift of life. I do not seek to discredit what the military has done at the risk of their life for freedom. I am trying to enhance our vision and understanding of the role of these women who have worked on the battlefields to take lives away from death. Alike the Xrist who without weapon nor violence, except that which he inflicted upon himself by being crucified, the Xrist therefore has torn us from death; a horrible death of which he portrays the sufferings by comparing it to the eternal fires. A death that expresses itself by the separation from God, the source of life, such as Adam lived it in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Therefore, Jesus cannot consider greater love than to give one’s life for others. Someone can pay for one’s release, but the price of one life for another life leads to consider the equivalence of this value. Xrist explains to his disciples, certainly astonished by these words, that this gift of one life to another is highly rewarding. Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness writes the apostle Paul to the Philippians (2:6,7). Xrist’s love is such that he lowered himself so we may live.
3. KING DAVID SEEKS THE COMBATIVITY OF GOD AGAINST HIS ENNEMIES
Say to me, I am your salvat ion. Psalm 35:3. We could translate: your salvation, I am according to the stress put on the term salvation in the Hebrew text. Because that word precedes I am. The King David seeks the comfort of his soul. He seeks for certainty, for assurance. In difficult moment, we are looking for the same quest. Does God respond? Is He here? Does He see our misfortune? Is He concerned? These questions can be in our heart and sometimes might drive us away from Him. That proximity of God is fainting at sometimes. A conviction of the divine work that humanity have lost from the garden of Eden. Adam lost that proximity with God. He lost his relationship with God which was reflected in his daily living. He lost his assurance, his confidence in God (Genesis 3:10). Faith becomes then essential. That is what the King David expresses in this psalm. Adversity seems sometimes so important that we may loose confidence in the future from sight. We need the Spirit of God to confirm this assurance that He is here, present in the hollow of our lives, even in the most difficult moments.
However, since the human being have difficulty to stregthen himself in His promises, God came in Jesus Xrist. He took a human form to comfort, to share our life, and to accompany us in this chaotic life, even dramatic for some. There certainly are extremely difficult situations, losses that make some lives particularly painful and yet, I want to remember these words from an epitaph that a nurse left us. These words are from Vera Brittain, a Member of the Voluntary Aids Detachment during World War One: Epitaph On My Days in Hospital: I found in you a holy place apart, Sublime endurance, God in man revealed, Where mending broken bodies slowly healed, My broken heart.
4. LOVE FOR OTHERS
What are the motives of those who fought in France during World War One? Whatever they are, there is a common thread: the sacrifice of life, youth, health, well-being to free or defend against threats. David was seeking this assurance of salvation in his God, we must look for the beauty of God in others, seeking the Xrist in the other, our neighbour. As this well-known story of the Good Samaritan teaches, even today.
These women who came on the battlefields to save lifes, these nurses who sacrificed their life so our Grand Fathers may live, changed the face of the world. They have struggled in a hostile environment. They suffered to bring comfort, to be present by the wounded, and to support undone, broken, and bruised men. Whatever their motivations, they brought life. In certain cases, they restored life; like the Xrist who came from heaven to save the world. To give this world a way out of foreclosure. For life does not end with death, but it continues by restoring a relationship to what was broken.
4) La vraie histoire des femmes de 14-18, de Michèle Jouve et Franck Jouve paru le 17 octobre 2013 aux éditions CHRONIQUE
7) Le blogue de Bibliothèque et Archives Canada. Les infirmières militaires décédées en service pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, deuxième partie
Words of Jesus according to the Gospel of Mattew 11:28
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.