“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
Traveling through Mississippi a few years ago we decided to take a detour through the Vicksburg National Military Park, the site of a long series of significant and bloody Civil War battles. Being on a tight schedule we did not have time to linger as we would have liked, that is until we wandered upon the Vicksburg National Cemetery where nearly 17,000 Union soldiers are buried, 13,000 of whom are unknown. Can you imagine? There we did pause for a while to meditate upon the sacrifices of those thousands of slain young men, including all the mothers who must have grieved the rest of their lives having never known for sure what happened to their sons and why they never returned home.
What does it mean to lay down one’s life for his friends? For certain it would mean dying in order to save another, but in the scheme of things the large majority of us will never be faced with such circumstances as jumping in front of a bus to save a child or falling on a grenade to save the lives of comrades in battle. Yet, Jesus seems to be speaking to all of us about laying down our life for a friend, not just those faced with literal life or death situations.
What about parents who sacrifice on behalf of their children so they can have a better life? Does that count as laying down one’s life? Or, a teacher committed to the profession of teaching, a doctor or nurse dedicated to healing, an employer endeavoring to keep his company profitable in order to provide jobs for others, or an employee serving his employer to the same end? What about those who fight to preserve freedom or the ones who strive to conserve the environment? What about simply living life in such a way that has a positive influence on another? Are these not examples of laying down one’s life for another? And surely the grieving mothers of those thousands buried beneath the soil at Vicksburg would have, given the opportunity, died in place of their beloved sons so they could live.
Laying down one’s life on behalf of another, however that occurs . . . it is indeed the greatest act of love there is, and the only thing that will ever truly give our lives meaning.