It's been a hard week in my small community. Last Friday, five friends on their first day out of school for the summer went swimming in a local river. When one of the friends was washed over a nearby dam, the four did not hesitate to follow. Two young men lost their lives to that river; one young woman remains in critical condition; a community mourns.
Jesus talks about love in the context of life and death - "That a man might be willing to die for another." I don't like that statement. I don't care if it's Scripture; I don't think it's a reflection of reality.
Last Friday, I don't think any of those young men thought, "I'm going after her. If I die, I die." I think every one of them more likely thought, "I am not willing for her to die."
This is real love, is it not? Not that a man would think of himself first, consciously push himself aside, and begin to live - or to die - on behalf of another but that a man would not think of himself at all. I think that's how Jesus pulled off His incredible ministry, tragic death, and glorious resurrection. He thought not of Himself but of the men and women around Him - on the streets of Jerusalem, the shores of Galilee, in the graves of the sinners, being knit together in the womb. He lived, not thinking "I would die for them," but rather, thinking, "I am not willing that they would die."
I think that's how these young men pulled off this rescue. They were not thinking of themselves, but thinking of their friend. It is not that they were willing to die; it is that they were not willing for her to die.
Were we to think about it, there is not one of us willing to die. Not for any reason. Ever. Not for old age. Not for cancer. Not for disease. Not for accident. Not even for love. Which means the real question we face in our lives is not, "For what are we willing to die?" but rather, "For what are we willing to live?"
These young men, in that moment, lived for friendship. They lived for relationship. They lived for one another. It cost two of them - the boys, their families, their friends, their community - everything. And as we mourn the loss and celebrate their lives, I think we have it right. We do not celebrate martyrdom or heroics. We do not celebrate their final acts. What we celebrate are the lives of these two young men. The way they lived, not the way they died, as selfless as it was.
There is so much grief right now. So much mourning. So many questions. So many tears. It's hard to know how to say goodbye. Or how to say "thank you." Although both must be said. It's hard to know how to say, "I'm sorry." I don't know that words can begin to touch the emptiness. It's hard to think about two young men who were not willing to die but died nonetheless because of the way they were willing to live.
It's hard to think about how we're living.
But I think in a time like this, we have to. We owe it to our solemn moments to let them speak something into us. We owe it to a time like this to let it speak life, in a time of death. To let it speak love in a time of sorrow.
Because that's what this is. This is not about life and death. It's about love. It's about the way we think about one another. The way we respond to relationship. It's about the importance we place on living and loving together. Catch that? Together.
Right now, my little town is doing "together" right. Everywhere you go, there are blue ribbons around trees. Blue paint. Hundreds showing up at prayer vigils. Blue balloons tucked in fences. Restaurants - local hotspots and major franchises - teaming up to donate profits to a benefit fund. T-shirts being sold for the same. Public memorial services and handwritten notes. We've got "together" down.
It seems fitting. Tragically fitting. That here we are coming together for two young men who knew more about togetherness last Friday than most of us had ever thought about. For two young men who were not necessarily willing to die for their friend, but were absolutely willing to live for her. With the fullness of all they had. Without thinking of themselves.
Maybe it's not so far from the Scriptures. Just a change of words. For this is truth:
Man has no greater love than this, that he is willing to lay down his life...and take up his friend's.
As we try to comprehend death, let us also remember to live. As we mourn, grieve, question, cry...let us also remember to love.