Monday, 7 November 2011

The Burgers of Calais

In Victoria Tower Garden London, a small park beside the Thames River and in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament is a copy of a world famous sculpture by Auguste Rodin.  It is called, “the Burghers of Calais”. 

“The Burghers of Calais”, depicts the dramatic events that occurred in 1347 during the Hundred Years’ War.  Calais an important French sea port was put under siege by England’s Edward III, but the French King Philip VI ordered the city to hold out at all costs.
They tried to obey their Kings orders, but eventually starved and beaten the towns leaders surrendered to Edward.  Edward agreed to spare the people of the city on condition that six people be surrendered to him to be hung.  
That would have to be one of the hardest decisions anyone could be asked to make.  Which of their friends or neighbours would they offer up on behalf of the town?
The wealthiest of the towns leaders Eustache de Saint Pierre was the first to suggest someone. He nominated himself.  Five others of the town council then followed suit.  They stripped down to their breeches, put nooses around their necks and collected the keys as Edward has ordered.  It is this moment that Rodin captures so powerfully.  Emaciated after the long siege, facing imminent death.  They appear  worn and defeated.
England’s Queen intervened and persuaded her husband to spare their lives by telling him it would be a bad omen to execute the men while she was carrying his baby.  Edward relented and there lives were spared.
What the leaders of Calais did was a brave act on behalf of the city’s population, but I suspect that if they had known that they might be called upon to sacrifice their lives for the city’s citizen they may not have been so keen to stand for election.  It takes a truly extraordinary leader to be willing to lay down his own life for his people. 

There is a leader who did exactly that.  Jesus entered our world to die, to die on the cross.
God said the consequence of sin is death.  We all sin.  We all deserve to die, but Jesus volunteered to take our place, to take our punishment, to die for us.  Jesus gave up his life so that we might live.
We are less than a month away from Christmas, there will be pictures of Jesus in the manger.  Images of a little helpless baby and his parents.  They will be in shop windows, feature in television commercials, used on Christmas Cards.  When you see these pictures of the first Christmas you might remember that baby did grow up and when he was in his early 30’s he was taken outside the city walls of Jerusalem He was beaten, stripped naked and forced to carrying a cross that he would soon be nailed to. He did this so that all who believe in him we might have life eternal.

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