Did you watch any of the coverage of the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy? June 6, 1944 was the greatest military invasion in history. I found myself both wanting to watch, and needing to turn away. I was both fascinated by the heroism and courage of these soldiers, yet sorrowful for the horrendous loss of life and the wounds, physical and emotional, the survivors would carry with them. And to think that the horrors of this war were the result of one demented, influential, vicious man.
I also watched portions of a couple of the movies that have been made of D-Day, including Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielburg’s portrayal begins with the Normandy invasion, and then following the bloody battle, Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and his surviving company of soldiers receive very unusual orders from their commander. They must locate and rescue a soldier, Private James Aryan (played by Matt Damon), who is fighting somewhere behind enemy lines. We are told that Ryan and his three older brothers enlisted in the Army. What Private Ryan doesn’t know is that all three of his brothers were killed in the Normandy invasion. To spare Private Ryan’s mother the anguish of losing all four of her sons, Miller and his men must find James and bring him back alive.
As Miller and his eight men move deeper into enemy territory in search of Ryan, they engage in an intense debate about why one man’s life is so important that they should risk theirs. “This Ryan better be worth it,” Miller says. “He better go home and cure some diseases or invent a new long-lasting light bulb.”
Despite their misgivings, Captain Miller’s band of soldiers bravely carry out their orders, with several of them paying the ultimate price as they successfully locate and rescue the young soldier. In the final battle scene, Miller takes a bullet that will ultimately cost him his life. But before he dies, he whispers to Private Ryan, who is kneeling by his side, “Earn this… earn it.”
The movie ends with a scene set some fifty years after the war, with the elderly James Ryan standing over Captain Miller’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. With a trembling voice, he says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.” Ryan then turns to his wife, asking “Have I been a good man?” For 50 years, he was tormented by the realization that he could never do enough to earn what Captain Miller and his men did for him.
Contrast this with Jesus, who gave his life so that we could live abundant and eternal lives. His dying words were “It is finished,” not “earn this.” For there is no way to earn what it cost for Jesus to give his life for yours. You could spend your lifetime trying to earn your salvation, only to find frustration and despair. So Jesus says to us all, “It is finished,” declaring that nothing more needs to be done. You don’t have to earn it. You can’t earn it. The free gift of salvation is His gift. For in Jesus, we see more clearly than anywhere else that Jesus is dying to have us know and love him.
In Him, Pastor / Sheepdog Dean