Easter thoughts (HS Chapel review)
We've been taping HS chapels in the past few months in an effort to take the content beyond the walls of BCS, but we weren't able to get things recorded yesterday. So, in an attempt to give you the big ideas and content of yesterday's HS chapel, I present what follows below.
Usually, when one thinks of Easter, one doesn't think of the movie Saving Private Ryan. For me, however, the movie--particularly with its final scene--strikes at the heart of the Easter message. To be fair, Steven Spielberg wasn't intending to make an Easter film with the picture. For me, however, I simply find the content and deeper questions compelling and very connected with Christ's work on the cross. The film's final scene has always resonated with me as I reflect on my faith.
Start by watching the opening scene of the film:
So, the post WWII James Ryan is now looking back on something very pround in his life. Profound enough to literally buckle his knees. The ending of the movie points us to what has largely shaped his life up to this point. The "it" moment came in the last moments of the life of Capt. John H. Miller, Ryan's "savior" in essence, on the battlefields of Normandy.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of Saving Private Ryan, here's a quick overview:
After storming the beach at Normandy, the Allied forces secure the beachhead, at the cost of many lives. Once there, Capt. Miller's (Tom Hanks) platoon receives new orders: Find Private Ryan and bring him back alive. Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon) was one of four brothers fighting in the war. Three of them were now dead, and the U.S. Gov't couldn't stand the thought of losing all four. As a result, they requested Miller's group to find him and deliver him home safe and sound. The only issues were (1) they had no idea where he was, (2) they were weary, (3) the didn't know him at all (motivation issues), and (4) lots of ill-tempered and well-armed Nazis floating about.
Other than that, a pretty straight-forward mission. "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"
After lots of searching, mis-steps, and the deaths of several platoon members, they manage to locate Ryan. The fighting culminates in a last-stand effort to hold off the Nazis from advancing to a potentially deadly postion ("Hold the Bridge" is the scene title). They manage to hold the bridge, but not without a major casualty: Captain Miller. His dying words would go on to profoundly shape the rest of Ryan's life. They are only three words (one of them repeated), and they are whispered, but their impact on Ryan was tremendous.
Here is "Hold the Bridge" and final scene. Pay attention to Hanks' words to Damon, but also the older, post-war Ryan's words to his wife (who seems to be caught completely unaware of what her husband has been carrying around all these years).
Three words, all whispered, which then led to these words:
"Tell me I've lived a good life."
"Tell me I'm a good man."
It is these words that brings me to Easter.
Take a moment and read Luke 18:10-13.
Let's take a look at the Pharisee, who represented the best-of-the-best of relgious study and lifestyle. In short, he found his acceptbility to God in his performance, including what he did, and did not do. Consequently, his performance-based mentality led to him grotesque pride and judgment of the tax collector (more on him in a moment), as well as a need to maintain his performance level. Had Jesus told him to "earn" his acceptance, the Pharisee would have trotted out his spritual resume and expected Christ to give him the "welcome-to-eternity" high-five and he would receive his just rewards. For him, it was about performance, pride, and pressure.
Not so the Tax Collector.
If you're unfamiliar with the tax collector stigma, here it is in a nutshell: They were the lowest-of-the-low. They sold themselves out to make a buck for themselves on top of the money they were collecting for the oppressive and hated Roman government. They were the Benedict Arnolds of their day, and people despised them beyond words. The words of the Tax Collector in verse 13 tells us that he not only knew of the hatred of others, but also the hatred he had for himself as a result of his lifestyle. Consequently, he couldn't even look towards Heaven. For him, he had simply fallen too far to ever be redeemed. Had Jesus told him to "earn it" in terms of his salvation, he would have mostly likely hit the road, head-in-hand, to live a life of despair and hopelessness. He was too low to save.
To the Pharisee, I would show him this (the preacher you hear is Matt Chandler):
Is that good news, or what!!
Why does this matter to teenagers?
Think about school for a moment:
For the Pharisee-types, school presents a monumental amout of measureable: grades, class-rank, college acceptance letters, teams, AP/regular classes, not to mention money, posessions, looks, friends, social skills, romantic life...and on and on it goes.
These things aren't necessarily bad in-and-of-themselves, but we quickly turn them into idols of significance that make us all potential Pharisees. If you end up on the wrong end of these things, you can quickly find yourself in tax collector-land, feeling incredibly despondent and inadequate, which brings us to the beauty of the Easter message.
To the Pharisee who says "I've earned it," Christ says, "you don't have to; I paid for you long ago. Relax, and stop trying to earn my love (plus, you can be nicer now)."
To the Tax Collector, who says "I've fallen too far to be loved," Christ says "Nonsense, you are loved more than you can imagine. Come home."
To the teenager, who finds their worth--or lack of it--through their school and social currency, Christ says "those things do not make you who you are: I make you who you are, which is eternal, beautiful, and whole."
Exhibit A: Romans 5:8 - But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
Exhibit B: John 3:16 - God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.
I think we can all relate to Private Ryan because we spend way too much time trying either earn Christ's love, or we feel that are too-far-gone to even try because of our sin. To all of us, the beauty of Easter is that Christ nailed all of our junk to the cross, and "by his wounds, we are healed."(Isaiah 53:5)
My prayer this Easter is that we can actually believe that. For those are seeking significance through their performance-based holiness, they would simply let Christ penetrate their heart and find peace. For those who feel they are too-far-gone with sin to ever be loved by Christ, that they would accept His death on the cross and find acceptance and rest in His love.
As I close, I want to leave you with a phenomenal version of a Christian classic. Listen to the words and find rest and peace in the Savior Who loves us beyond what we can imagine.
Thank you Jesus.