Contemplations on Service and Sacrifice – Easter 2014
It seems I have found myself contemplating some rather timely themes and ideas. Recent events, coinciding with the Easter holiday have found me meditating on thoughts of service and to a greater extent, sacrifice. I would assume that we all think that we understand these ideas. Service – being to render ones services, or to give aid, or help to another. Sacrifice – giving of ones self for another’s benefit, especially at great personal cost. I’m sure in most of our lives we feel that we have done these things, though I doubt that many of us feel that we live our lives embodying their true spirit. When I think about those who have sacrificed and served for me, it begins to bring the essence of these ideas home. The number of people who have given up time, effort and emotion for me over the course of my life, leaves me feeling uncomfortably inadequate at best and grossly delinquent at worst. Service and sacrifice come from a place of great love and care, the most rare and precious of gifts, best not squandered or denied.
Since I came to this world in flesh, I have been served by many and I have sacrificed for so few. My tab is run high, no doubt and I cannot help but think that when The Reaper comes to collect on this debt, he will find my account wanting. From my Mother and Father who raised me, though my father was not present for the latter portion of my formative years – to my sister whom I owe for her devoted and unconditional love, trust and support since childhood. Through my life there have been friends, teachers, mentors, employers, lovers and even enemies that served me in some fashion or other. Whose time in my life, however tragic, or transient, has in some form shaped my journey, influencing its course. The tally is long and to this day, I am blessed with the burden of many good people around me who sacrifice life’s most dear commodities for my benefit. The love of my wife and family, the camaraderie of friends and the attention and ministrations of teachers and instructors; I am sorely indebted to them all. My mind balks and my heart sinks when I look inside myself to find the currency to repay what I have been given. To balance the scales, just a little bit. It is with this dearth that I look to Jesus Christ once again for guidance.
Be it chronologically accurate, or not; it is in springtime that we celebrate sacrifice and resurrection. Did the Roman Catholics arbitrarily decide to relocate the holiest of Christian observances to coincide with the pagan Solstice ceremony? I couldn’t care less. We, as Christians observe at this time because it is the celebration of Passover in the Jewish faith and that is where this story of service and sacrifice begins.
Jesus was crucified; a horrible end for anyone much less the Savior of mankind and only Son of God. The Roman culture was a heavily militarized colonial machine that succeeded because of its ruthlessness and strict adherence to law and order and punishments were harsh by design. Jesus knew this when He predicted His own end.
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, 2 “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Matthew 26:1-2 NKJV
After a lifetime of service, of teaching and giving freely of Himself; here Jesus was facing what He knew to be an inevitable end of the most cruel and painful sort. As if that were not enough, it would be one of His disciples who would prove to be the agent of this terrible fate.
20 When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. 21 Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”
Matthew 26:20-21 NKJV
Now, imagine yourself in that position for a moment. You know you are going to be tortured and executed in the most horrible way and it is one of your closest friends who will deliver you to your executioner. Can you imagine a more dire set of circumstances? This is where things get interesting for me, because faced with these very events unfolding in His life and with the certain knowledge that He is going to die, Jesus doesn’t run away. He doesn’t seek to evade his fate. He is not resigned to His death, but he faces it head on and circumstances get more daunting yet.
In the garden at Gethsemane, the night Jesus was arrested, He left His disciples to keep watch while He went alone to pray. He knows that He is the Son of God and that He will die as a sacrifice for all of mankind, yet His prayer is one of supplication.
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Matthew 26:39 NKJV
He prays that His fate will not come to pass. He knows it will, but He prays that His Father will spare Him. It seems as if God does not answer Him here, for when He returns to His disciples to find them sleeping, He admonishes them for letting themselves be given over to sleep and not keeping the watch. The Gospel tells us that Jesus prays 3 times to be released from His fate. He could have spent that time running away and hiding from the Romans and the Pharisees, but He rests on His Faith. I cannot imagine the feeling Jesus must have felt, seeing His captors enter the garden under torchlight, swords and clubs bared, knowing that they had come to take Him to His death. Freshly abandoned by His Father and friends and alone to face a certain end, but He does not relent. He does not recant His claims that He is the Son of God, He does not beg for forgiveness at the feet of Pontius Pilot, for He has already appealed to the highest court in the land and been denied. He goes to the cross knowing that He is to give His blood, His life and His breath for a higher purpose. The only purpose that He ever had and in the end, He prays His killers are forgiven. That is the sacrifice that we hold sacred today.
Now, this is not intended to be a theological discourse, nor a treatise on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but instead it is where my mind took me when I began to meditate on service and sacrifice. Admittedly, I have been light on service, but let’s look deeper into the subject. In order to serve someone, or to sacrifice for something, be it an idea, a belief, or a relationship; it would seem to me that the act comes either given of free will from a place of love, or from indoctrination and duress. I am going to deal here with the former, as the latter breaches far too broad a concept to be dealt with here. Also, since I am viewing this through the filter of my experiences, I am inclined to believe that true service and sacrifice come from a place of love, devotion and duty and that the other is something else entirely. Jesus gave freely of Himself when He went to the cross. What His blood has purchased us requires no further compensation on our part.
I am confident that I could say the same for my mother and sister, who have given help and supported me freely all my life. Teachers whose duty it was to school me in the sciences and humanities – yet there were some who went the extra mile out of duty and love of their craft. Even today, I have bonds of friendship with my contemporaries that are forged of camaraderie, teachers and instructors who teach out of love for their art, not for monetary gain. Not to exclude my wife, for whose heart I married and for her uncanny devotion to serving others. I have her to thank for inspiring in me the desire to contribute to something more than myself. There are many more people who have done me great service, too many to list here, but they are no less responsible for this reflection.
When we serve each other and sacrifice for each other, we allow those we serve the opportunity to reflect upon the world and their place in it such as I do now. It is the fruit of the harvest that the toil yields in the end. The sum that is greater than its parts. It is what creates and sustains family, community and ultimately, civilization. By lifting the burden of another, however briefly, we allow that person to stand straight, breathe deeply and get ready for what inevitably will be the next challenge or hardship, for such is the world we live in. Be it a burden of ignorance, poverty, hunger, isolation, fear, or any of a multitude of afflictions; we have a duty to each other to give and to serve, each as they can. We can go to the cross, so to speak, for each other and sacrifice for something larger than ourselves.
There are people who are doing this in all our lives every day. There are those who have decided that it is their duty to stand between us and the darkness, who have volunteered their lives for ours should violence be visited upon us by some enemy. Those who serve in the military, or in law enforcement, have given over their lives to dealing with the most devastating and disgusting parts of the human condition. Those who study and practice medicine sacrifice much their lives to researching and treating disease and the destruction of our bodies and minds. Teachers in our schools serve their whole careers in the fight against ignorance, often with little support from those they serve. There are many in our world who for some inexplicable reason, have decided that it is their place to stand between humanity and those things that would destroy us and I’m sure that they aren’t doing it for the money.
So, here I find myself back at the beginning. Looking at service and sacrifice and wondering where I begin to repay the debt that has been paid in my name. I suppose, I should start in the middle and work my way outwards; family, community and beyond, if necessary. Seeking to be a servant of mankind and sacrificing when called upon to do so, regardless of what station I hold in life.
13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”
12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:1-17 NKJV
Serving with love is the highest calling that reaches from the greatest leaders to the lowest of servants. From the C.E.O. to the guy who cleans the toilets, all have the opportunity to serve at one time or another. To make the life of someone else a little bit better, sometimes by only the smallest of acts, sometimes by making the ultimate sacrifice. There is no schedule, or duty roster for most of us, life comes at us with the speed of a car crash and the ferocity of a hurricane. There will never be a time that you are not needed, somewhere, by someone. Such as our world is, the tide of tragedy and affliction will never ebb and the suffering in this world will never cease. Therefor it is our duty to prepare ourselves for service and to make ourselves ready to lend aid where and when we can. To have love at our center when we find ourselves faced with someone in need; that even if we were stripped of all our wealth in this world and left naked in the maelstrom, we could still lay down our lives in place of another.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
I know that my time in this world is finite and I have been taught that the reward is in the next world and I believe that. I also believe that it is my responsibility to do my best to leave things a little better when I leave than when I arrived, or at least not leave too big a mess for someone to clean up when I go. If married life has taught me anything, it is that no one likes picking up after me. Perhaps it is with the benefit of so many mistakes and bad choices in my life that I am allowed the luxury of reflection. That I have been so blessed to have so many incredible people in my life that have served and sacrificed for me, that I have had a fine example of how to serve others. I believe that God guides our paths if we let Him and that by seeking the right paths we will find them in time. I know that chaos, and hardship, are not optional in this world, but instead are drawn in detail, down to the subatomic level. We exist purely by Grace and it is with Grace that we must serve and sacrifice for one another. We have hope, because we have knowledge of Victory through Jesus’ Resurrection and we celebrate that Victory this weekend, but that triumph is paid for in service and sacrifice. They are the currency of Love and the stone on which our lives are built. They are our purpose and our duty to each other; each of us a candle that is just a pinprick of light, but together, a searchlight to dispel the darkness.
David Joseph Roussel