The season of Easter and what took place in the road to the cross recently drew my mind back to a scene in a movie, a scene that affected me far more than a movie had ever affected me. As I thought about it I started researching it and was really surprised with what I found. Many critics had derided the scene and called it sappy and the like. I’ll admit that sometimes I fall for the sappy or cliche moves in movies, but this time I think that they were way off base. They merely saw emotion and reacted in the way that they accused the filmmakers of acting, with shallowness. The film was Saving Private Ryan. The plot is fairly simple in that a team of soldiers is given the mission of going into the heat of battle to return the last remaining son in a family to safety so that he can be returned home. The team is very resentful of the mission that the soldier, private Ryan did not request and does not want. The movie according to many of the veterans of ww2 that I have spoken to over the years feel that Saving Private Ryan is one of the most faithful representations of what ww2 was like. The soldiers were asked to make sacrifices that only those who have engaged in warfare can begin to understand. When team members are lost and the physical, emotional, life and blood sacrifices become apparent, the Tom Hanks character tells private Ryan that the life he lives better be worthy of the sacrifices that were made. The scene in question comes at the very end of the movie when Ryan is standing by the graves of those who came to bring him out. He begins to sob and beg to know, to hope and to pray that he lived a good life, with no one in his family understanding or even beginning to comprehend the depth of his necessity to have that question answered. The sacrifices were not requested. They were a gift beyond his ability to even ask for. They were given freely. It was grace extended to Pvt. Ryan and his family. They were very, very expensive free gifts.The question for Ryan then became, how will what was done for me affect the path going forward? Will you live a life of gratitude or selfishness? Will your life reflect thankfulness or apathy? The gift of blood and life that the soldiers gave draws our attention to the Easter message, to the good news. Though their gift gave life it did not grant eternal life. Jesus gave his life, not because of direct orders but because of his intense love for you and me and all of creation. His gift actually shattered the bonds of death and made it where those lost soldiers would be reunited with their fallen comrades and loved ones in the resurrection. Therefore, the same questions are asked of us. How will what was done for us affect the path going forward? Will we live a life of gratitude or selfishness? Will our lives reflect thankfulness or apathy? The answer for us must be to live a life of Thanksgiving, an Easter life, a life lived at the foot of the Cross, following Jesus and giving of ourselves. The season of Easter is above all a season of life: resurrection life, eternal life, or, as the end of this passage says, “life”–“that through believing you may have life in his name”. As Frank L. Crouch points out in his Commentary, “Of course, the “life” spoken of here is not actually “just plain” life, but is a distinctive kind of life, a distinction that is obscured in English but apparent in Greek. In John, and throughout the New Testament, the English word “life” translates three different Greek words: psychē, bios, and zoē. When John (and the rest of the New Testament) speaks, on the one hand, of psychē or bios, these words refer to what one possesses simply by virtue of being a living creature. This is the life possessed from birth to death by animals and by humans, whether they be good or bad, righteous or wicked, founders of charities or perpetrators of genocide. On the other hand, “life” as used at the end of this passage, is spoken of with the word zoē. This is eternal life (literally “life of the age”), life given to those who believe; life given to those who are born of God; life that, in John, transforms us from merely existing to living in the abundance and eternity of God. This life was present from the beginning and lies at the core of creation (“in him was life (zoē), and the life (zoē) was the light of all people” (1:4)). This life connects the deepest purposes of God with the ultimate purpose of John’s gospel: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah … and that believing you may have life (zoē) in his name.” This zoē does not replace psychē; we are still the same creatures we were before. It does, however, bring us into the fullness of grace; so that we are, also, not still, the same creatures we were before–at least hopefully not the same.” This gift of life is amazing. In 1772 John Newton got it right. That was when he began composing the hymn “Amazing Grace” after experiencing the realization of God’s grace and its transformative effects on a thankful heart. Newton was a slave trader, and after his experience an abolitionist. While we were yet sinners, Christ dared to die for us. That’s grace, gutsy grace, and the kind of grace that beckons us to recognize the cost and deep love and concern behind it. Above all, Christ’s example of faith on the cross stands as our standard, just like the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole in the wilderness. When the people were bitten by snakes they looked upon that serpent and they did not die. We can walk in faith with our eyes on the cross and know that we will not be given over to death. It is through this faith that we are propelled, empowered and enabled to give our lives over sacrificially to him in assurance. Like Private Ryan, we cannot help but ask what we’ve done to deserve such sacrifice by Jesus and by others and beg their forgiveness for what we have cost them, but in the case of Jesus I can assure you that it was undeserved. It is his extreme love for you that he forgives you. We like to think that if we are good, we get rewarded. That makes sense to us. But I assure you it is instead, because God loves you, you are rewarded. Like Ryan, let us live our transformed lives passing that same grace to others, not just telling them about it but being swept up in the transformative nature of the Cross and resurrection and live as loving, giving, and forgiving followers of Christ.
The unprecedented events of the day of resurrection continue as the risen Jesus appears to his fearful disciples. A week later, after Thomas worships Jesus, Jesus pronounces that the blessings of the resurrection are also for those who “have not seen and yet believe.” John 20 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son. By your Spirit’s breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.