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  • Writer's pictureHoward Thompson

Greater Love...

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

This week, citizens of Australia and New Zealand will mark ANZAC Day, a national day of remembrance that commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. At dawn services across both countries, speakers including clergy will reference the following words from the Lord: "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:13).

In 2023, relatively few of us are called to serve in our nation’s armed services, and even fewer are faced with the prospect of laying down our lives for our friends. Many names can be seen on memorial plaques in small towns and villages across the country, names of young men who never returned from World Wars I & II. This begs the question: how applicable are these words of the Lord today? Quite frankly, these words could not be more important than they are today.

In his teachings for the New Church, Emanuel Swedenborg wrote of multiple understandings of this passage. Yes, of course, laying down one’s life for his or her friends is the ultimate physical sacrifice, the ultimate expression of love. It certainly expresses the selfless love that the Lord demonstrated on the cross.

There are other, more spiritual ways, that each of us can lay down our lives. Ways that we are called to far more frequently than in battle defending our nation. One way to fulfil the Lord’s teaching is through spiritual sacrifice, which involves setting aside one's own selfish desires and ambitions in order to serve others. The New Church teaches that this type of sacrifice is a daily practice that involves putting the needs of others before one's own desires, and making choices that are in the best interest of others. This type of sacrifice can be difficult, as it requires us to let go of our own egos and be willing to put the needs of others first.

Another, even deeper spiritual way to fulfil this teaching is through what Emanuel Swedenborg might term the “heavenly sacrifice.” Such a sacrifice involves laying down our own will and taking up the Lord's will. Swedenborg believed that this type of sacrifice is the highest form of love, as it involves surrendering our own desires and agendas to the divine plan and living our lives in accordance with the Lord's will. This type of sacrifice involves a deep commitment to spiritual growth and development and a willingness to let go of our own desires and attachments in order to align ourselves with the divine purpose. In short: not my will, but thy will be done.

Like many seemingly simple teachings of the Lord, there are different ways to fulfil Jesus' teaching to lay down one's life for others, including physical sacrifice, spiritual sacrifice, and heavenly sacrifice. Each of these forms of sacrifice requires a willingness to put others first and to surrender our own desires in service to others and to the divine. Few of our lives today may be at risk in war, but that does not mean that we don’t have a life to put down that will have far greater implications for our eternal life.

Personally, I can think of no greater way to honour those who have died in service to our country than to live a life of useful service to each other.

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