This is the story from the beginning of today’s sermon. Sorry, but I can’t remember where I picked it up from and have adapted it a little.
It is France.
It is a small village in France.
The year is 1943.
Imagine the cobbled streets.
Perhaps a fountain in the square?
The church with a bell tower and in the door a black cassocked priest, perhaps with a hat to keep the sun off.
It is war time so the shops have little in the way of produce in the windows but they are colourfully decorated.
Red, white and blue bunting along the front.
Women gather with baskets over their arms and blether on street corners.
The cafe has a few tables outside and some men sit smoking and drinking, eyes wrinkled from the sun.
An idyllic scene at first glance.
But remember this is war time.
On that corner in the doorway stand two young men in German uniform.
Their job is to watch.
To watch the women go into the shops,
to watch the men in the cafe,
to watch and report back anything untoward.
They are young, these soldiers.
They look about eighteen, no more.
Far from home and on short rations.
They may be the ones with the upper hand but they don’t look like they are enjoying it much.
The priest has seen how skinny they look and so each day he goes from door to door with two large baskets begging food for them.
A few eggs here, some bread there, a few home-grown vegetables from this house.
All gratefully received by the occupying forces.
Then one night the local resistance movement blows up the local bridge into the next large town.
The Commandant demands reprisals and orders everyone to gather in the square by the fountain at 6pm for a special announcement.
He brings in reinforcements and on rooftops and in upper windows there are armed soldiers silently watching.
Every man between the ages of 16 and 65 is to step forward to the fountain.
There, in front of wives, mothers and girlfriends, they are shot.
The fountain runs red with the blood.
The distraught and angry villagers turn on the priest.
“If you come again asking for food for these murderers, we shall kill you.”
On the day of the funeral the little church with the bell tower is full and overflowing.
Every family has lost someone.
The old priest stands up and reads from the Gospel of John, the passage we heard today:
‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.’
Later that day he stands in the village square, with tears in his eyes, watching the local people filling the baskets he has placed at his feet with food to feed the enemy soldiers.