April 9th, 1865 marks the end of the worst conflict ever seen on American soil. 147 years ago Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. Lee surrendered his Army of North Virginia after the final battle of the war, where Lee came up predictably short. The battle, which took place on Palm Sunday 1865, was a last-ditch effort to save Richmond, Virginia (The Confederate Capital) from Union occupation.
After a fruitless attempt by the Confederate Army, outnumbered by almost 75,000 men, Robert E. Lee sent a note to General Grant that required more humility than most could fathom. Lee was quoted as saying, “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths”. Yet this surrender would be one of the noblest surrenders in the history of war, on the part of both the victor and Lee.
The Bible has an interesting take on victory. Jesus teaches repeatedly that victory is humility and pride is defeat. Both of these generals came to the Appomattox Courthouse as models of biblical humility. Grant showed up in a dirty uniform, covered in mud, without any decorations or frills and Lee rode up in his grand military attire. A strange showing by Grant, since it was customary for a general to lord over his military captives like a ruthless tyrant and after all, they did just defeat the rebellious Confederates. But when Robert E. Lee put his army at the mercies of Grant and the Union, humility and grace were on display. Not only did Grant allow Lee and his men to go home to their families and jobs immediately but he also gave the starving Confederate soldiers rations of food from their own supplies. Grant even went as far as to order his own troops not to cheer in victory when Lee and his men walked past. This was a small gesture that would go a long way in repairing a nation that had been split it two. Upon the surrender, Lee was an American citizen again and given his full rights of freedom and dignity. If the entire South could have swallowed their pride as Lee did and the entire North extended a hand of reconciliation like Grant did in this moment the horrors of Reconstruction could have been replaced with great reconciliation.
The themes of humility, grace, repentance and forgiveness seen at Appomattox 147 years ago are a timeless metaphor for God’s reconciliation of sinners. When man separated themselves from union with God the great war of humanity ensued. God’s plan from the beginning, as was the Unions, was to reconcile. And only if the opposition was defeated could this take place. On the cross Jesus defeated our sin and crushed the enmity between man and God, now when man comes to God in surrender, God’s response is one of welcome and acceptance. A picture of this reconciliation can be seen in the exchange between Grant and Lee, and the subsequent restoration of the Union. Whenever man sins, he fires a shot at God. Like RC Sproul says “Sin is an act of cosmic treason” but instead of treating us as prisoners of war, God treats the surrendered sinner as a citizen of Heaven.