“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:7-8
“We would like to ask all passengers to push the flight attendant call button above your seat,” the crew member announced. No one was sure why we needed to do that just before landing the plane, but since no oxygen masks appeared and the flight attendants, though unusually serious, didn’t seem nervous, we dutifully pushed our buttons and sat back as two rows of blue lit up the aisle.
The speaker crackled to life again: “Occasionally we meet passengers who touch us in a special way. Today we have on board a mom and dad who are escorting their son, a fallen marine, home for burial.” This pronouncement was followed by an uncertain pause as people tried to gauge the political climate of the plane, then a burst of applause as passengers all over the political spectrum abandoned caution and united to honor the young man and his parents.
The crew member continued, asking us to remain in our seats as the parents gathered their belongings and left the plane first. I watched first with curiosity and then through tears as a man with wild gray hair and equally wild tattoos moved slowly through the plane, nodding to acknowledge the renewed applause and trying to stem the flow of tears that betrayed his tender father’s heart. His wife followed, allowing her own tears to fall freely. Our call buttons were blue beacons to light their path. I didn’t know them or anyone else on the plane and will probably never see any of them again, but in that moment, we were united under something stronger than political divides: sacrificial death. The marine was my age when he died. What would make a young man risk his life like that? A thought hit me hard: He did this for me.
I don’t usually think about soldiers’ deaths in such personal terms. They give up their lives for something big: a cause, a set of ideals, a whole country of people. But in that moment, I couldn’t shake the thought that this stranger decided to risk his life for me, someone he didn’t know existed, to protect the freedoms I hold so dear in this country. There was a body in the hold of that plane transformed from living, breathing potentiality to corpse because he said yes to the call to fight for me. Not only this, but his parents willingly gave him up, their only son, for me.
There is such heartrending beauty in sacrificial death. It should never have to happen, but the pain and injustice doesn’t have to be wasted. It transcends barriers and softens enmity. It humbles and yet dignifies. It inspires. All this from ten minutes on a plane with one unknown young man and his parents.
Christians, you know where I’m going with this.
Why is it that a marine’s death touched me so deeply, but my restless heart refuses to grieve genuinely on Good Friday? Am I so hardened that I have lost touch with the depth and personal nature of Christ’s sacrifice? This marine died for someone he didn’t know. Jesus died for a woman he knew completely- all the beauty he created AND all the ugliness of her sin-corrupted heart. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). When I was Christ’s enemy, he died for me (Romans 5:10). He didn’t die to protect my freedom of speech. He died to free my soul from sin and death. He didn’t die honorably. He died in humiliation, ignominy, and torture. And God let him, sent him, watched it happen, made it happen. He turned his back on his beloved, blameless son who was with him from eternity to eternity. Not just for me. For all of us. Can you imagine how much that cost? Think about it:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
“He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Brothers and sisters, when did the truth of Christ’s sacrifice last touch our hearts so much we wept? Why is it that we continue to bicker and pick at each other over small provocations, when we should instead unite under the banner of Christ’s love? One human death can have this effect on a group of strangers; why not the Divine Death on a group of God’s beloved children? Two weeks after this plane ride, I am still torn up about this. Will you join me in praying for softened hearts toward God and one another?
Though I don’t remember the name of that marine, I will never forget him. I thank and honor him for giving his life for me, for us. I thank and honor his parents for giving him up. Most of all, I thank them for modeling an even greater sacrifice, that of God and his Son on the cross. My prayer this Memorial Day is that remembering the honorable sacrifices of our fallen men and women will point us to the once-for-all victorious sacrifice of our Heavenly King. You know the verse; say it with me and let it be the springboard of our prayers:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).