"James, earn this. Earn it."
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Good Friday, April 10th: Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13—53:12; John 18:1—19:42; and Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I think the conclusion to Saving Private Ryan is one of the most powerful movie scenes that I have ever watched. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X32O5_NVhxU] Capt. John Miller’s dying words are to Private Ryan. He has led a mission to send Private Ryan home after all of his brothers have died in battle. He whispers to Private Ryan, “James, earn this. Earn it.” And he dies.
The closing scene then jumps decades into the future and shows an elderly James Ryan at the military cemetery where Capt. Miller is buried. Ryan approaches his grave and kneels down. We watch from behind the Captain’s monument, a white marble cross. We listen as James Ryan says, “I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes I have earned what all of you have done for me.”
These words are directed obviously to the memory of Capt. Miller. I would, however, on this Good Friday, ask you to see this scene differently and to listen to the words differently. Capt. Miller and others died for the sake of James Ryan. They died so he could live. And James Ryan lived his life in constant gratitude for their sacrifice.
If you clicked on the link above to watch or re-watch the closing scene, I’d ask you to watch it again. This time watch it and imagine that his words are being said to Jesus who is symbolized by the cross that dominates the foreground of the closing scene. Think about our belief that Jesus dies for us. Think about Jesus as our Saviour, the one who died so that we could live. Think about how we would translate those dying words of: “Earn this.” Watch it again and imagine that marble cross as the Golgotha cross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X32O5_NVhxU
The power and the emotion of that final scene is because of the sincere connection and between Captain and Private, and because of Private Ryan’s deep gratitude. Good Friday asks us to seek that same sort of personal relationship between Jesus and us, between us and the one who sacrificed His life so that we could live. Good Friday can hopefully inspire each of us to live “life the best I could.”
Good Friday must be a personal experience of Jesus’ sacrifice endured for us if it is to be anything more than morbid. It has to change the way we live. A statement of belief older than the biblical book that recorded it states: “[Jesus] was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) In other words, the earliest Christians believed that Jesus saves us, and that Jesus also inspires us to righteousness – the same Greek root-word as justify. This is the message of “Earn this.” It’s not enough to be saved; we have to live like we’ve been saved.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews understood the real-life sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He writes: “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Capt. Miller had credibility with his troops because he fought alongside them. Similarly, in Christ, God was not protected in heaven’s sanctuary. God, in Christ, fought the same life-battles as do we. Jesus lived and died in His full humanity and made that a part of the nature of God. “In every respect” Jesus was like us except for the fact that He never wavered. He never sinned. On this solemn and sacred day when we remember Jesus’ torture and death, may we renew our relationship with the crucified God, and as we look at Jesus’ cross may we get the message of “Earn this.”
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