The delegates of World Assembly who chose to do so clambered aboard the fours busses for the one hour bus ride to the memorial that is Auschwitz Birkenau. It is my first time visiting a holocaust site. It may be my last.
The place was crowded, large groups following our guides who addressed us through radio headsets to prevent raised voices. The headsets somehow gave a sense of privacy and locked us away from the rest of the group. We followed where the guide went and were shown one place of horror after another.
"Here they were stripped and shaved… here is two tonnes of hair shaved from the heads of women prisoners… no one in the photographs in this corridor survived… this is the wall where thousands of prisoners were shot… you will now walk through the small gas chamber, 10,000 people were killed in here: please observe silence to respect those who died here."
The shuffling of feet on the stone, the walking in single file, the silent groups walking behind their guides. The terrible lack of words. The inadequacy of words and tears. The feeling of powerlessness. The overwhelming sense of darkness.
I tried to hear them, the prisoners; to guess the places of brief hiding, seeking a moment of humanity in the monumental edifice of evil. I looked for marks on walls they may have made, for stone worn down by their footfall. For something that would indicate their presence more than the aching absence still at the heart of European society.
Then the eyes of a young boy looked at me from the past. He was being walked to his death, calmly being reassured he was going to shower with his family. His mother and other children walked with him. He had the boldness to at look the cameraman, directly – as children do. This boy knew how to avoid trouble, remaining hidden and unnoticed in the brutality of the ghetto. He knew better but still he looked, curious, threatened even.
His gaze, alive and bold, stretches out through the years. He places the viewer in history, in the place of the Nazi photographer, witnessing and documenting the relentless massacre of men, women and children. He is gone, dead within an hour of the photograph.
Where was Jesus? If he is God at all, He is God in and through all.
Jesus was in the ghettos, the transport trains, the sorting queues, the changing rooms, the gas chambers, the ovens. He remained in the camps, stood naked in the snow, endured the beatings, tortures, insults, degredation, hard labour, starvation and pain. He took it all with and for the prisoners, endured evil at the hands of evil people - he was there because he had borne the cross.
He reigns today over a world full of sin - where people remain broken, where preventable disease is allowed to continue because it is convenient to the pharmaceutical companies; where men, women and children make the clothes we wear for poor wages in bad conditions; where the money we spend on leisure in a month could sustain an entire family in the developing world for a lot longer than a month; a world where the horrors of sex trafficking are so overwhelming it is hard to conscience that we can continue our normal daily lives while it is happening; where the coffee and the chocolate we so quickly and easily consume is so affordable because it is the product of inequality.
It is so easy for us to look at 5 years of history and one horrific set of circumstances and become blind to the fact that Jesus has reigned over this world before us and will do so after us. He is LORD, He is GOOD. I struggle too, honestly do - struggle to make sense of God's kindness to us in the face of a world full of people like me. But kindness has indeed been shown in Jesus Christ.
The Holocaust reminds us that people like you and me are capable of great evil. That evil is the reason Jesus died on the cross.