France surrendered to Nazi invaders and an armistice was signed June 22, 1940. Presbyterian pastors André Trocmé and Edouard Theis wrote a joint declaration that Trocmé read as a sermon the next day in the Le Chambon church. Catherine Cambessédès recalls, “In the church you could have heard a pin drop. I was only fifteen, yet I clearly remember my mood going from lost and frightened to safe and calm. Can you imagine what a sermon like that meant to us at a time of fear and despair? To be told, in church, that if the military situation had changed, our source of inspiration had not: it was still to follow in the steps of Jesus and the New Testament. We were not lost. We still had direction. The day remains one of the most illuminating of my life” (A Good Place to Hide, 43).
I invite you to step into that special moment and let these brief excerpts from that sermon illuminate, inspire, provide direction and calm for us as well. How do Theis and Trocmé speak to you and your community of faith today?
In this call to Christian humility, brothers and sisters, we would like to add a few exhortations addressed to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, let us abandon today all divisions among Christians, and all squabbles among the French people. Let us stop labeling ourselves and others, because that is the language of scorn: let us abandon right and left, peasants, workers, intellectuals, proletarians and plutocrats, all the terms we use to accuse each other of some wrongdoing or other. Let us learn to trust each other again, to receive each other, to welcome each other, reminding ourselves that every time we come together, like the early Christians, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Then, having abandoned these suspicions and hatreds, and the political passions that go with them, let us gather resolutely around Jesus Christ, the head of the universal Church, and embrace his Gospel, and only his Gospel, as our source of inspiration, obedience and action.
Finally, understand that the return to obedience obliges us to make some breaks: breaks with the world, and breaks with ways of living that we have accepted so far. We face powerful heathen pressures on ourselves and on our families, pressures to force us to cave in to this totalitarian ideology. If this ideology cannot immediately subjugate our souls, it will try, at the very least, to make us cave in with our bodies. The duty of Christians is to resist the violence directed at our consciences with the weapons of the spirit. We appeal to all our brothers in Christ to refuse to agree with or cooperate in violence, especially in the coming days when that violence is directed against the English people.
To love, to forgive, to show kindness to our enemies, that is our duty. But we must do our duty without conceding defeat, without servility, without cowardice. We will resist when our enemies demand that we act in way that go against the teachings of the Gospel. We will resist without fear, without pride, and without hatred. But the moral resistance is not possible without a clean break from the selfishness that, for a long time, has ruled our lives. We face a period of suffering, perhaps even shortages of food. We have all more or less worshiped Mammon; we have all basked in the selfish comforts of our close family, in easy pleasure, in idle drinking. We will now be made to do without many things. We will be tempted to play our own selfish game, to cling on to what we have, to be better off than our brothers. Let us abandon, brothers and sisters, our pride and our egotism, our love of money and our faith in material possessions, and learn to trust God in Heaven, both today and tomorrow, to bring us our daily bread, and to share that bread with our brothers and sisters.
May God free us from both worry and complacency. May he give us his peace, which nothing and nobody can take away from his children. May he comfort us in our sorrows and in all our trials. May he see fit to make each of us humble and faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ, of the body of Christ, waiting for his kingdom of justice and love, where his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven (A Good Place to Hide, 307-08).
For more on the story of how Christians in this French town peacefully resisted fascism and aided Jewish refugees:
Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, by Philip Hallie. I use this book in class.
Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and André Trocmé and the Village that Said No to the Nazis, by Hanna Schott. Provides much more information on Magda and also their lives before and after the war.
A Good Place to Hide, by Peter Grose. A broader, more carefully researched history than Lest Innocent Blood be Shed. It does not add much to the faith-oriented material of the other two books, but provides greater information on the actual activities of aiding refugees, includes surrounding towns, and includes stories of refugees.
Weapons of the Spirit, a documentary that includes interviews with people from Le Chambon who lived there during the war.