Greater Love Has No One Than This…
Posted by Logan Gates on November 10, 2017
I remember as a young boy visiting my grandparents’ home and seeing on the wall the faded photograph of my grandfather’s brother – “Uncle Pete.” I would spend whole minutes just staring at it. Unlike my grandfather, Uncle Pete was young – he had thick dark hair, sharp eyes, and was at the prime of his life. It was so hard to imagine him as my grandfather’s brother – he looked like my brother, if I had had one!
I remember my dad telling me that Uncle Pete had died in the Vietnam War, and that he had died for our country. I remember asking, as a five or six year-old, if my grandfather was sad when his brother died, and my dad said he was. I remember looking at that photograph and thinking – “I wonder what he was like, and what he would have been like today.”
In contrast with the uncle I never met, many this Remembrance Day will be remembering a friend or family member far closer – fathers, mothers, siblings, and children – who gave up their freedom and their lives, in order to help secure ours.
But what about those of us who don’t have a personal connection like that? What makes this day meaningful for us?
This week the War Memorial in downtown Toronto is surrounded by thousands of Canadian flags, each for a soldier killed in battle. As I passed by it yesterday, the thought occurred to me – what is it that makes all these lives lost something more than just a tragedy? Richard Dawkins writes, “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it.” Along these lines, one might say death is tragic but normal – perhaps the “most” normal thing there is!
And yet, in the loss of these Canadians we know there is not just something tragic, but something meaningful for us today. I think it comes down to the fact that these weren’t just Canadians who died. These were Canadians who died for us. Their sacrifice had meaning precisely because it wasn’t without purpose. Because of their death, we now have life.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In the sacrifice of our military, past and present, we find echoes of the sacrifice of another whose death was more than just a tragedy. The apostle Paul writes, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His death was not without purpose. It was for us – for our freedom, for our future, and for our life, eternally.
A colleague pointed out to me this week that it’s no coincidence the first person to realize this about Jesus’ death was a soldier. At the foot of the cross when Jesus breathed his last, it was a Roman centurion who said, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
In a culture where death is chance and meaning is illusion, the sacrifice of our military lifts our eyes to the higher virtues of honour, integrity, and sacrifice, which reach past our natural world to a reality that lies beyond the grave and a God who has overcome death and offers to us today life eternal and to the full.