No Greater Love
For the past two days and nights, our church has hosted the visitation and funerals of two Charlotte-Mecklenberg County police officers who were senselessly gunned down in cold blood last Saturday night. Apparently, they hadn't even drawn their weapons; they were caught unawares and killed. One of the officers was married, but he and his wife had not yet had any children. The other was the father of a three-year-old son, and his wife is seven months pregnant with their second child.
Kristiana and I returned home a few minutes ago from standing on a street just outside our neighborhood and waving at the family, friends, and hundreds of police officers as they made their way from our church to the cemetery.
Helicopters have hovered over our neighborhood (we live walking distance from our church) for the past two days. A firetruck has stationed itself in the church parking lot with its ladder fully extended and an enormous American flag flies from it. Flags are planted all over the area. The two funeral services were broadcast live on local television channels. Tears flowed. Stories of their bravery, their commitment, their calling to serve the Charlotte community brought me so close to those men that I too wept for their loss and for the family and friends they left behind. Such sorrow is incomprehensible and unnecessary.
Today a soloist sang, "I Can Only Imagine," one of my favorite songs. The chorus says, "Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for You, Jesus, or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence? To my knees will I fall? Will I sing Hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine." Every time I hear that song, I am reminded of my own father, singing, dancing, and laughing in heaven. Talking to the men and women whose Biblical writings he studied so fervently here on earth. No more glasses, cane, oxygen mask, or arthritis. I can only imagine how joyful he is.
When those two men joined the Police force, they pledged to protect and serve the citizens of Charlotte. They lost their lives in the keeping of their pledge. There is no greater love, the Bible says, than to lay down one's life for a friend.
On this Good Friday - I still don't know why it is referred to as "good" - another death is remembered. An innocent man. The only truly innocent man who ever lived. Arrested. Betrayed. Tried. Convicted. Condemned. Crucified. Senseless. In His case, there were no military honors. No long line of police cars. No one waving flags or banners. He was spat upon, mocked, laughed at, and most of all, ignored. One of the men who knew Him best was the one who betrayed Him to those who sought His death. The rest of His disciples, those who knew Him best, ran and hid. Denied knowing Him. For all people of all times, even though most of us ignore Him and refuse to even consider the possibility that His love was and still is real, that it makes all the difference in the world.
This morning as we celebrated Communion together here at home, the children and I talked about Jesus' horrific, terrible death. My son asked, "But, Mom, couldn't Jesus have made the nails not hurt?" "Yes, Daniel," I answered. "He could have stopped the pain. He could have stopped the entire thing from happening. But He knew what had to be done, and He went through all of it. Pain and all."
Those of us who say we know Him, who claim to follow Him, who sometimes want to live by His Word and sometimes want to hide from it, we still deny Him, run away, hide behind our fears and silence. We so rarely live as though we believe much of what He said; sometimes I wonder whether or not I believe it fully and truly. I know that I don't always stand up for what I believe or speak up when necessary. I often run away like the prodigal daughter and pretend that I am not His beloved child.
Thanks be to God that, indeed there is no greater love than His love. Because every time I come back home from my wandering and going astray, He receives me as His own. Every time I pull out the weapons of hate, of sarcasm, of unwarranted anger, of inexcusable silence, of self-righteousness, and aim them at someone I know and claim to love, like the bravest Police Officer on the beat, like the most loyal Secret Service Agent in the service of a dignitary, Christ stands in the way of my bullets. By His wounds, everyone I seek to injure is healed. And most miraculous of all, He pours His love out over and over again on me as well.
My prayers are with the families of those two slain officers. And also with the families of both soldiers and local civilians alike who die daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. In war-torn nations and families all around the world. With the family of my dear friend, Karen, who I visited yesterday as she battles through the last days of her life, ravaged by that hateful disease that starts with "c."
Because of the Greatest Love of All, the love that led Christ to the Cross on Good Friday, and because of His return to life which we will celebrate on Easter morning, because of the power of the Resurrection, we repeat that powerfully redemptive phrase:
"It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming."