Letters of Transit

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Now, here’s a thing.  I have a number of things stuck on the noticeboard above my desk. Pride of place (obviously) goes to my grandson’s drawing of the ‘Ultimate Ninja Course’, but I am also very pleased with the facsimile ‘letters of transit’ next to it. 

For those who don’t know, the letters of transit are at the centre of the plot for the film Casablanca (often voted by film critics as the greatest film of all time – although second in my own personal list to another Humphrey Bogart feature – The Maltese Falcon!).

The letters of transit are, in effect, a kind of super passport and they have some almost magical properties. The film is set during World War 2 and possession of the letters of transit (which I thought were signed by Hitler personally, but oddly are signed by General De Gaulle) guarantees you access to any train, boat or plane that you wish to travel on, no questions asked. They cannot be rescinded or even questioned.  If you have the letters of transit your passage to your destination is assured.

They are even the subject of one episode of a podcast devoted to ‘Documents that changed the world’.[1] Interestingly that podcast compares them to the letters provided to Nehemiah by King Artaxerxes when he wanted to return to Jerusalem.  But we also see that in the context of the film they are a powerful metaphor for escape, freedom and a new life. Possession of the letters, in and of itself brings hope and joy and a certainty of what is to come.

As Christians, of course, we have our letter of transit (thankfully not signed by Hitler or De Gaulle!).  In perhaps the most well-known verse of scripture John 3.16 says

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’

There is our ‘letter of transit’, provided by the love of God and signed in the blood of Christ.

I mentioned the almost magical properties of the letters of transit, but note this also. If you are caught in possession of them, not at an airport or similar, then you are fair game for the authorities and can be arrested and even shot. Senor Ugarte (played by the wonderful Peter Lorre) is shot and killed by the Police just after he has passed the letters to Rick (Bogart) for safekeeping.  Our letter of transit will always get us to our destination, but it may also bring us worldly troubles and persecution.  But, whereas those for Victor Laszlo  (‘avec sa femme’) only provided passage to America ours provide a passage to somewhere much better.  As John put it in the book of  Revelation:

 “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

Revelation 21.2-3

[1] ‘Documents that changed the World’, John Janes, https://www.washington.edu/news/2013/03/26/documents-that-changed-the-world-the-casablanca-letters-of-transit/