My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this—to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:12-14)
This week, more than any other, Christians think about sacrifice. How can we look away on Holy Week? We often narrow our focus to “sweet little Baby Jesus” in December. Then we make of him whatever we will—teacher, miracle worker, story-teller, healer—the rest of the year.
But we can’t avoid this week, Holy Week.
• Maundy Thursday reminds us of the religio-political leaders’ trumped-up charges, Jesus’ charade of a trial, his horrific beating, the blasphemous mockery and, maybe most dispiriting of all, abandonment by his friends.
• Good Friday forces us to consider Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Enduring incomprehensible pain, he felt forsaken by even God the Father as he gave his own precious life for the sins of the whole world, including ours. Read the Gospels. Imagine the horror. Consider he would have gone through it all if only for you.
• Then what do we make of Saturday? Silence. On Saturday, turn your mind from contemplating Jesus’ agony and put yourself in his followers’ sandals. Don’t even try to consider Savior-denying Peter’s emotions; his guilt was overwhelming. But imagine you’re John or Bartholomew, one of the Marys, or Martha. Can you comprehend the loss? Can you fathom the grief?
Thank God, Sunday’s coming. Thank God for Easter.
Reflection of gratitude
Holy Week prepares our hearts and minds for Easter. And Easter compels us to follow Jesus, who sacrificed his own mortal life so he might defeat the power of death, and we might experience eternal life—never-ending, undiluted relationship with him.
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If we follow Jesus consistently and we take seriously his command, “Love each other as I have loved you,” we will follow his lead and lay down our lives for others. Self-sacrifice is not our inclination. We reflexively react to preserve our own lives. In our best moments, we instinctively would act to save the lives of our family, possibly even friends.
But if we’re true to Jesus’ example, we will be willing to lay down our lives far beyond those near-concentric circles of family and close friends. As we are able—no, willing—to sacrifice ourselves for others, we do so as a reflection of our gratitude to Jesus for laying down his life for our own.
Our altruism grows in direct proportion to our thankfulness for all Jesus has done for us. We demonstrate our appreciation for his sacrifice by doing as he commanded. We love others as he loved us—even to the point of death.
Yet most likely, none of us—with the possible exception of members of the armed forces—ever will encounter the possibility of sacrificing one life for another. We’re not likely to be martyred, held for ransom or placed in any situation where we could die so that another or others might live. Our world is dangerous, but not so much where we live.
Lay down our lives
Still, we definitely can lay down our lives for others. Think about it: What are our lives but the moments, activities, resources and elements of our personalities that accumulate into a lifetime? We sacrifice or give up pieces of our lives when we place our moments and our means and our giftedness at the disposal of others for their benefit, not ours.
How can we lay down our lives for others? We do so—at least in an ongoing-yet-momentary, practical aspect—when we:
• Give our time to others.
This may mean going on a mission trip, or volunteering for that job at church nobody else wants to take. Or mentoring a child, shopping for an elderly neighbor, putting family time ahead of work. The list is endless, and you know the calls to your own time. In order to serve others, in whatever capacity, we must give them our time, which quite literally is a piece of our lives.
• Devote our talents.
Committing our talents to the service of others is a corollary to giving our time. We can’t implement our talents without delivering them across time. Yet our talents extend beyond mere time. They are essential aspects of our selves that we alone can contribute. They are personal gifts that leave our imprint on others, blessing them.
• Put others first.
This is counter-cultural, of course. What if we acted to bring about the best for others, not for ourselves? We can demonstrate this in our relationships, from home to work to community. We can demonstrate this in the way we speak in public, in the way we shop and spend our money, in the way we vote. We live in a world where advocacy on behalf of the greater good is viewed as weakness. But in our “weakness,” we can demonstrate Jesus’ strength.
Sure, we hear, but do we really listen? We give of ourselves when we engage in conversation and seek to understand, rather than to be understood. We strengthen others and deepen our relationships when we invest our conversational energy making note of what our companion is saying, not formulating what we’re going to say next. Listening is a rare gift these days.
• Share our resources.
Let’s be candid: Money makes a difference. Whether it’s food on the table, medical care in under-resourced communities, educational scholarships or a myriad of vital ministries, money makes it happen. When we live generously, with open hands, we give up what might be ours for the sake of others. Compared to other pieces of our selves, money seems the most remote and crass, but it’s necessary and can be catalytic.
Empathy allows us to enter into the lives of others. It enables us to identify with them, to imagine what their lives are like and to feel compassion for them. Along with obedience to Jesus’ command to love others, empathy provides the motivation for laying down our lives in service to theirs.
This Holy Week, may we respond with gratitude to Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf—living as Easter people, laying down our lives for others so they will know the blessing of joy on Earth and the promise of eternal life with our Savior.