In July of 1861, folks in both the North and the South figured on an easy victory in mere months. Neither the Union nor the Confederacy were truly prepared for the bloodiest war in our history – the Civil War.
The history books tell us of the initial enthusiasm and excitement. General McDowell marched forth from Washington with his 35,000 men, eager for battle. A throng of sightseers lined the streets and roads to send off the troops. There were congressmen and government officials, some with their wives. They had picnic baskets and cases of champagne to celebrate victory on the spot. The words “On to Richmond!” appeared on souvenir hat bands, on carriages and on the ribbons around the horses’ necks.
But a few hours into the march, things changed. The weather was hot. As the day wore on, the raw troops began to falter under their heavy loads of blankets, extra uniforms, camping equipment, care packages sent from home, not to mention rifles and ammunition.
They fell out of step, then out of line. Panting and weary, they began to throw away the surplus gear. The roadside for miles was soon littered with tinned lobster, woolen underwear, folding chairs and fancy writing kits – and yes, cast-off ammunition too. Congressmen in their carriages were nowhere to be seen now.
History records in painful detail what happened that July of 1861. At first the Union troops seemed to be winning. But the tide of battle turned. Despite a premature telegram sent to President Lincoln that the Union troops had the Rebels on the run, the Union troops were soon in full retreat. The battle of Bull Run took the wind out of the Union’s proud sails. The war would drag on for another four, bloody years before the Union could claim victory amid devastation.
Another patriot noted the enthusiasm of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots who fold their tents and melt away when the real battle is joined. Christ warned of shallow faith, soon sprung up in shallow soil and just as soon withered beneath the heat of adversity and opposition and the relentless temptations to join the world.
Down from the Mount of Transfiguration Christ leads His apostles and us in today’s text. He summons us to the good fight of faith, not the soft pillow of compromise, complacency and conformity to the world. As Churchill once offered his countrymen nothing but “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” so the Savior who has paid us the honor of citizenship in His heavenly kingdom offers us no heaven on earth.
Jesus tells us what to expect. Alongside blessings that the world will never know, He tells us there will be burdens to bear, crosses to carry, battles to wage against the sin around us and within us. But His touch has still its ancient power. We do not go forth alone. Our Love, the Crucified, who sprung to life one morning long ago, summons us still: “Follow Me!” And He promises: “I am with you.”