- Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die (John 12:28-33)
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for most of the Christian world. It is a time that we remember the suffering and death of Jesus that leads to his resurrection on Easter morning.
I would like to tell you a story.(1)
- The time was the roaring twenties. The place was Oklahoma. John Griffith was in his early twenties – newly married, and full of optimism. Along with his lovely wife, he had been blessed with a beautiful blue eyed baby.
John wanted to be a traveler; he wanted to visit faraway places with strange sounding names. He would read about them and research them. But then came 1929 and the great stock market crash, and with it all his dreams. Brokenhearted, he, like so many others, packed up his few possessions and with his wife and little son, Greg, headed east in an old Model-A Ford. They made their way toward Missouri, to the edge of the Mississippi River, and there John found a job operating one of the great railroad bridges that spanned the massive river.
Day after day John would sit in a control room and operate the enormous gears of that immense bridge over the river as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under his elevated bridge. Then, he would lower the massive structure so great trains could roar by. Each day he looked on sadly as they carried with them his shattered dreams and his visions of far-off places and exotic destinations.
In 1937, His young son was now eight years old, and John had begun to dream that Greg would someday work with him and share his dreams. Excitedly father and son packed their lunches and, arm in arm, headed off toward the immense bridge.
Greg looked on with wide-eyed amazement as his dad pressed down the huge lever that raised and lowered the vast bridge. He thought his father must surely be the greatest man alive. He marveled that his father could single-handedly control the movements of such a giant structure.
When noontime had arrived, John elevated the bridge and, taking his son by the hand, they headed off for lunch. They inched their way down a narrow catwalk and out onto an observation deck about 50 feet over the water. As they ate, John told his son, stories about passing ships.
Suddenly John and his son were startled back to reality by the shrieking whistle of a distant train. Looking at his watch in disbelief, John saw that the bridge was still raised and that the Memphis Express would be by in just minutes.
Not wanting to alarm his son, he instructed his son to stay put. Leaping to his feet he jumped onto the catwalk and ran to the control house. Once in, he searched the river to make sure that no ships were in sight and then looked straight down to make certain nothing was below. But, below him in the massive gearbox was his beloved son.
Greg had tried to follow his Dad but had fallen off the catwalk and was wedged between the teeth of the gears. His son’s leg had already begun to bleed. Immediately, John knew that lowering the bridge meant killing the apple of his eye.
Panicked, he frantically searched for solutions. Suddenly a plan emerged. In his mind’s eye he saw himself grabbing a coiled rope, climbing down the ladder, running down the catwalk, securing the rope, sliding down toward his son and pulling him back up to safety. Then in an instant he would move back to the control room and grab the control lever and thrust it down just in time for the oncoming train.
As soon as these thoughts appeared, he realized there just wouldn’t be enough time. He vainly searched for another solution. What would he do? What could he do?
His agonized mind considered the 400 or so people in the train moving closer toward the bridge. Soon the train would come roaring out of the trees with tremendous speed. But this – this was his son – his only child – his pride – his joy.
His mother – he could see her tear stained face now. This was their child, their beloved son.
He knew in a moment there was only one thing he could do. He knew he would have to do it. And so, burying his face under his left arm, he plunged down the lever. The cries of his son were quickly drowned out by the relentless sound of the bridge as it ground into position. With only seconds to spare, the Memphis Express – with its 400 passengers – roared out of the trees and across the mighty bridge.
John Griffith lifted his tear stained face and looked into the windows of the passing train. A businessman was reading the morning paper. A uniformed conductor was glancing nonchalantly at his large vest pocket watch. Ladies were already sipping their afternoon tea in the dining car. A small boy, looking strangely like his own son, pushed a long thin spoon into a dish of ice-cream. Many of the passengers seemed to be engaged in either idle conversation or careless laughter.
But no one looked his way. No one even cast a glance at the giant gearbox that housed the mangled remains of his hopes and dreams.
In anguish he pounded the glass in the control room and cried out, “What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you care? Don’t you know I’ve sacrificed my son for you? Want’s wrong with you?”
No one answered; no one heard. No one even looked. Not one of them seemed to care. And then, as suddenly as it had happened, it was over. The train disappeared, moving rapidly across the bridge and out over the horizon.
This story is but a faint glimpse of what God the Father did for us – of what Jesus did for us in offering for us his own life for us.
Unlike the Memphis Express, that caught John Griffith by surprise, God – in his great love for us – determined to sacrifice His Son so that we might live.
It is difficult to comprehend the will of God, difficult to grasp just what He has done.
But we know this
- and we are called to accept this
and to embrace this
that it was done for us
so that we might live.
Let us pray:
Dear God and Loving Father who gave his only Son that we might live, please accept our humble prayers of thanksgiving for the ultimate sacrifice you made. Let us remember that love and try to live in this world as an example of your love to our world.
(1) Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis
Prepared for In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH