The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night. He said, “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills. And in the lonely night of earth’s winter eventually we begin to drift apart and wander out on our own and freeze to death in our loneliness.”
But winter does not last forever, and in the Spring Easter warms the cold heart with hope. Christ provided us an alternative: to forgive each other for the intentional and unintentional pokes we receive. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have hope. Forgiveness, kindness and compassion are at the heart of the Gospel. Even in the face of injustice and sinful arrogance, Christians must have hope. Even in the face of anger and hate, Christians must have hope. Even in the face of war and violence and death itself, Christians must have hope. That’s what Easter is all about: hope for resurrection and reconciliation.
The Civil War was the most un-civil period in American history. It is hard to imagine the hatred, animosity and strife, not just between the states, but also between families and friends and neighbors. 620,000 American soldiers on both sides lost their lives in battle or as a direct result of the conflict. To place that in perspective, we must realize that the entire population of the United States at the time was a little over 30 million – thus over 2.0% mortality from the bloody war! All told, there were more casualties in the Civil War than in all wars America has fought combined from then until now.
During the war, half the men of military age in the state of Iowa served in the Union army and more than 12,500 of them died and more than 8,500 of them went home with serious wounds. The devastation in the south was even worse. Ten billion dollars in property damage – 40% of its livestock destroyed. The state of Mississippi spent 20% of its budget on artificial limbs for the wounded in 1866.
In 1913, the Federal government held a fiftieth anniversary reunion at Gettysburg. It lasted three days. Survivors of unspeakable atrocities bivouacked in the old battlefield together, swapping stories, and looking up old comrades. They had witnessed the worst of the human race, but now these aged soldiers and one time mortal enemies came together for a final memorial meeting.
The climax of the gathering was a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch as the Union veterans took their positions on Cemetery Ridge, and waited as their old adversaries emerged from the woods on Seminary Ridge and started forward toward them across the long, flat fields. Philip Myers, (who witnessed the event as an 18-year-old) wrote, “We could see not rifles and bayonets but canes and crutches. We soon could distinguish the more agile ones aiding those less able to maintain their places in the ranks.”
As they neared the northern line, they broke into one final, defiant rebel yell. At the sound, “after half a century of silence, a moan, a sigh, a gigantic gasp of unbelief” rose from the Union men on cemetery Ridge.
“It was then,” wrote Myers, “that the Yankees, unable to restrain themselves longer, burst from behind the stone wall, and flung themselves upon their former enemies. . .not in mortal combat, but reunited in brotherly love and affection.”
“It was,” says Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Union hero of Gettysburg, “a transcendental experience. A radiant fellowship of the fallen.”
“A radiant fellowship of the fallen.” With all due respect to those Civil War heroes, that also seems a fitting description for a community of believers in Jesus Christ. Though fallen in sin, we are picked up and redeemed in Christ.
If members of the Civil War could discover reconciliation and forgiveness, surely we can find hope through reconciliation for the uncivil way humans—friends, strangers and family members alike—sometimes treat each other. And on this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let’s not forget what He said on Good Friday as He suffered unjustly at the hands of those He created: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:34 NIV)
Maybe the quills of broken promises and broken lines of communication have popped your balloon of hope. Maybe things just haven’t turned out as you expected. Jesus rose from the dead so our hopes and dreams could be resurrected and we could be reconciled to him and to each other.
Jesus Christ is unique for two miraculous reasons: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. As fully God and fully human, Jesus suffered as no man ever suffered, and on the cross took upon Himself the sins of the world. His resurrection from the dead offers hope for the future and makes possible reconciliation for us all. Isn’t that a better choice than being poked by porcupines?
The Civil War by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric & Ken Burns. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990 pp. 398-404.