“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
– 1 John 3:16 (NRSV-CE)
Arguably the most famous Biblical verse is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (NRSV-CE) It is very interesting to note, therefore, that if you take the verse number, and add a “1” before it, it yields the passage written above, and it is quite similar. The first part, especially: “We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us…” Coincidence? I think not.
Today is Good Friday, when we commemorate the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ. Jesus performed the ultimate act of love for us: by allowing Himself to take the blame for all of our sins as a world, so that He could experience death as well and free those who hitherto had no hope in eternal life. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice, we now all have hope in enjoying eternal life with Him and the Father.
The importance of God’s great love for us cannot be overstated. God, being God, being existence itself, did not need to create the world, did not need to create us. Yet He still chose to do so anyway. When we, His creation, sinned, He could have chosen to simply wipe us all out forever. But He didn’t – instead, God took the initiative to draw everyone back to Him, and still gave them freedom to act, because we were made in God’s image and likeness. Even when humanity kept sinning against Him, God did not cease loving us, and even performed the ultimate gesture, the ultimate act of purposeful volunteerism: He came to earth in human form, and though sinless, suffered a harsh death as though He had been the sinner of sinners. All so that we can be saved and return to the Father.
As we remember how Jesus literally loved us to death, we are reminded that we, too, should mirror the Lord’s example of great love: to love one another as He did us (John 13:34), and to love them to the point that we would be willing to lay our lives down for them (John 15:13). This is true service: to do it with an attitude and because of love. We are called to love and serve God not because we are forced or compelled to, but because we want to out of our love for Him. It is our way of gratefully returning the perfect and wondrous love that God first showed us.
I wish you a blessed and loving Holy Week.