Today is Palm Sunday – the beginning of the countdown to Good Friday – and I find myself consumed with thoughts, not of Palm Branches and people in sandals and robes, but of men in uniform, loaded down with weapons, covered in mud and blood. I find myself thinking of the movie Act of Valor.
In this movie, we are introduced to a team of Navy Seals. We get to know just enough about each one's family to care about the characters. We know that one in particular is expecting his first child with his young wife.
As the story unfolds, the Seals are sent on a series of missions. In the first, one of them is injured; and though it complicates the escape of the others, he is carried out unconscious by his friends. It is clear that Seals live by the motto, "Never leave a man behind."
During their final mission, the Seals are working their way through tunnels in pursuit of terrorists. They turn blind corners and weave their way through a maze of hallways until they find themselves in an open room with a balcony. An unseen enemy tosses a grenade into the room where at least three of the Seals are standing. The young father-to-be sees it first. He cries out "GRENADE!" while simultaneously throwing his body down on top of it. The explosion raises him two feet off the ground, but his body absorbs the full impact of the blast. His friends are safe; and he dies quickly, face-down in a pool of his own blood.
That scene became the entire movie for me.
Why did it move me so deeply?
It wasn't because a man died. It was because a man laid down his life – without so much as a moment's hesitation. There were no "Hollywood embellishments" in which the man sees his pregnant wife flash before his eyes or thinks of the child that he will never know. He doesn't weigh whether it is worth it to sacrifice his life for the others. There is no, "But I need to live!" moment. He just throws his body on that grenade and dies.
So, why is this movie running through my mind on Palm Sunday?
When the movie was over, I could not leave my seat. I sat through the entire roll of credits. My mind was numb with profound emotion, such that I almost didn't notice the song playing behind the credits. But my subconscious jerked my conscious mind to attention when I heard the words, "No greater love has anyone than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends." The words Jesus spoke to His disciples so soon before His own death!
A cross on a hilltop is a foreign image to us in the 21st century. It may be that we have stopped feeling what we should feel when we see a cross or a crucifix. Perhaps, in our very modern desensitized state, it would help us to envision Someone throwing Himself on a grenade, giving His life for ours, dying horribly in our place. And doing it willingly, voluntarily, and without hesitation.
When I go to church services this Good Friday, I readily confess I’m going to be thinking of Act of Valor. I am going to be pondering the fact that the greatest act of valor is also the greatest act of love!