My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
Today is a day when it is right to think about laying down life. And laying down life can be about how someone dies, but it can also be about how someone lives.
On Friday, March 6, 1987, the Ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsized in just 90 seconds as it set sail from Zeebrugge, Belgium, towards Dover with the bow doors still open. The disaster claimed 193 lives. There was great sadness on that day, and as always in the face of awful disaster great acts of heroism as some lost their lives and others……
Let me tell you about one person that day. Andrew Parker used his 6ft 3in height to bridge a gap between two metal barriers and allowed his wife, daughter and 20 other passengers to crawl across his back to safety. He lay down and became a human bridge in an extraordinary act of courage. He was awarded the George Medal. Andrew did not die that day. He lived but he still laid down his life.
I tell that story because it reminds us that lives can be laid down in different ways. We meet today and remember the lives that were laid down in death – those who were part of the Armed Forces specifically, but we remember many others who were caught up in conflict and who lost their lives.
In John’s Gospel we have the words Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
We remember those who made that supreme sacrifice of their lives. But we remember too that those of us who are left, those who are alive, can also lay down our lives. Both those who have laid down their lives in death and those who have laid down their lives in life can make a difference to this world.
Jesus was talking about himself in those few words from John’s Gospel. He was going to lay down his life for his friends. He was to die on a cross where he formed a bridge between God and people. He expected his followers, his friends, to follow his example – in death if need be, and always in life.
So in honour of those who have laid down their lives (Jesus in a way that was different to all, but others who have made that sacrifice whom we remember this day) might we make a decision to lay down our lives each day that others discover something better, something more of life?
Sometimes it’s not so difficult and sometimes it is so difficult.
Do the shopping for someone;
Look out of the window and check that the neighbours lights are on or off at the right time;
Join a community group;
Support a charity that helps others;
Hold a coffee morning to raise funds for a good cause;
Join a political party – or create your own – to make the world a better place;
Stand up to the bully you see picking on the weak and vulnerable;
Resolve to lay down your life – as a way of life.
Sometimes it’s not so difficult and sometimes it is so difficult. But it is always worth it.
Take seriously the words of Jesus to lay down your life – in death and in life, that we might honour those who have gone before and help to make the world a better place.