A week ago today Tracy (my wife) and I lay on our sofa and watched the service of remembrance which took place in Westminster Abbey – remembering the very day and hour Great Britain declared war on Germany 100 years previous.
The Great War, which later became known as World War One, was a dirty, gritty and bloody affair. There were many casualties, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and the contours of European history are very different as a result of this war. However, this war was one of many in the effort to secure our continued freedom.
In light of that it is unsurprising that people wish to commemorate and remember the huge sacrifice of lives given – the most costly among all the sacrifices made.
It is not only through services of remembrance that the sacrifice of others is commemorated. There are many poems, works of art, memorials and graves which also commemorate the sacrifice made. One in particular is world famous – the Shrine of Remembrance in Kings Domain, Melbourne, Austrailia.
This particular memorial is perhaps most famous for its poignant inscription which reads, “Greater love hath no man”. In addition, apparently the memorial is designed in such a way that once a year (on the 11th November at 11 a.m.) a ray of sunlight shines on the word ‘love’. But, I wonder how many people who visit this memorial know where this inscription is taken from?
It is in John 15:13 that Jesus utters the words which were later inscribed upon the Shrine of Remembrance, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (ESV).
Jesus is just after proclaiming, “I am the true vine” (Jn. 15:1). He proceeds to tell the disciples that they are now to abide in Him, who is the vine (vv. 4-6). The way to abide in Jesus appears to be living a new life in which the disciples live in obedience to all Jesus commands (v. 10). One way in which they do this is by loving one another as Jesus has loved them (v. 12). Therefore, Jesus’ remarkable statement – “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – is undoubtedly a call for the disciples to exercise sacrificial love for each other.
I believe that this makes it right for us to remember and consider the sacrificial love of others who, in defence of their friends and family, laid down their lives. I think it right that we remember and consider these lives even if we are pacifists or believed The Great War to be unjust.
However, remembering human sacrificial love should never be where we stop as Christians. Indeed, this is not where Jesus’ remarkable statement stops either. John’s Gospel is rich with theological imagery, and in many plain and simple statements we see a foreshadowing of a greater reality. This statement is one such instance of a plain and simple statement foreshadowing a greater reality.
This statement is found right at the centre of a section of teaching where Jesus is teaching and preparing his disciples for future events – In chapter 13:1-20 John recounts the evening that Jesus washed the disciples feet, foreshadowing the great service Jesus would execute on the cross, and John 17 Jesus then prepares his disciples for life without him. Therefore, Jesus is undoubtedly nodding toward the cross in which greater love will be displayed as he lays down his life for his friends. Barrett captures the mood with his comment, “The eternal divine love reached its complete and unsurpassable expression in the death of Christ, which was at the same time the death of a man for his friends” (quoted in D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John, pg. 521).
In fact, Jesus love is greater in that he not only laid down his life for his friends, but also for his enemies (Rom. 5:10). What we observe here in this short statement then is a greater love. In light of this, all remembrance and commemoration must look beyond the human sacrifices to the divine sacrifice which is the greater love. We must beware of only appreciating the laying down of lives by mere men, when there has been the laying down of life by the God-man.
Over the next four years there will be many events, services, artworks and memorials marking 100 years since events during The Great War took place. I think it our duty to take a moment and remember these things. However, our gratefulness for the sacrifice of a life must not end with those people who died in World War One – our gratefulness must go beyond that to the One who died for a world at war with Him.
“Greater love hath no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”