These days ‘Over The Top' implies the outrageous O.T.T. behaviour of a particular individual at a particularly inappropriate moment. But if you were unlucky enough to be somewhere near here over the Easter Weekend of 1917 ‘Over The Top’ meant something altogether more terrifying. This is Vimy Ridge, one of the worst WWI killing fields in France and Belgium where the expression ‘Over The Top’ has its origins. At 5:30am on Easter Sunday 1917 the mist over this hilltop carried a sense of dread. In the eerie silence everyone somehow knew what it meant. The moment had come to go ‘Over The Top’. The sound of the officers’ whistles echoed across Vimy Ridge and 35,000 men dutifully stepped into hell on earth.
The firepower unleashed onto this hill at Easter 1917 was greater than the whole of Battle of the Somme and it proved to be a turning point in the First World War. But there was another Easter battle waged on another hill that altered the course of human history. It happened on a highpoint known locally as Golgotha. That ancient Aramaic word translates into English as Skull Hill. It served as both an execution site and a rubbish dump. To understand it we have to rewind 5 days back to the previous Sunday. A fierce conflict is reaching boiling point. The opposing masses on either side of that religious conflict were out in numbers the day Jesus entered Jerusalem through the old East Gate on the back of a donkey.
People came out of their houses as the great drama unfolded. They waved palm leaves in the air and laid their coats on the ground ahead of him as this hero of the ordinary made his way through the crowds. They cried “Hosanna!” in worship and adoration but many of them would be back by the end of the working week shouting “Kill him!” as Jesus was sentenced to die by crucifixion. The information boards all over this hill tell the story of the Easter battle of Vimy Ridge but the Jesus story makes no sense, does it? He may have said some things that went against the grain but why the hate mob? Why the conflict? why the cross on Easter Hill?
The miracles of Jesus had restored broken lives and his powerful life-messages had switched lights on in people’s hearts. But Jesus had also likened the religious leaders of the day to whitewashed tombs, spotless in appearance but resembling death. He held them responsible for force-feeding the people with dead religion and slamming a door in the faces of those who deserved to hear about the Father’s love. When Jesus picked up his cross and walked up Easter Hill it was all part of God’s eternal plan to open the door of eternal life to anyone who would simply receive. Jesus went ‘Over The Top’ sacrificing his life in a divine substitution for every person past, present and future who has said no to God, choosing to live their own way. Then through his resurrection from the dead, Jesus neutralised the firepower of death itself.
So how does it work for ordinary people like you and me? Well, it’s not enough to believe it you also have to receive it. Jesus went ‘Over The Top’ so we didn’t have to. His sacrifice presents us with an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness and peace. That’s the Big Story that’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus.