Andrew today begins a series of four reflections for Lent. This first reflection poses the question "Why did Jesus place himself in the predicament that he ended up in?" Andrew entitled this reflection "One Giant Leap" and suggests it be read in conjunction with the verses 3-4 from Psalm 8 which you will find at the conclusion of the commentary.
A tragic aeroplane accident…
He had always had a fascination with flight. Perhaps it was that he lived but 60 miles from Dayton, Ohio, the home of the Wright Brothers, that his imagination had been so triggered. His initial boyhood interest had steadily developed from flying magazines to model aeroplanes and then even to a homemade telescope that was to be mounted on top of a neighbour's garage, so that he could investigate the heavens that he dreamed of soaring.
As we begin this story — the boy is fifteen. One day he and his father were passing by an airport; above them they could hear the spluttering sound of a failing aircraft engine. A plane was coming in low; from inside their car, father and son watched as the pilot spun out of control and nose-dived into the runway.
The boy and his father raced to help the stricken pilot, the teenager pulling the pilot out of the plane, braving a possible explosion. The twenty year old student pilot had been practising landings and take-offs. The fifteen year old boy cradled his injured friend; fighting back tears only to see and feel the student pilot dying in his arms.
Returning home that evening, the boy immediately threw himself into his mother's embrace — sobbing. Too shocked to eat he closed the bedroom door. That evening the mother and father sat outside their son's room. The boy had locked himself in. The parents wanted to give their son room to grieve — but they were also concerned that too long a period of solitude may in fact see him fall into a depression. They also wondered as to whether the accident would have destroyed their son's interest in flight. He had taken up a part-time job at a local corner-store in order to pay for his training. His ambition had been to be a pilot by his sixteenth birthday. Would he continue with his dream to be a pilot?
After two days the parents had decided that the time had come to talk openly with their son. When they entered his room, they found a room empty. Going to the open window, they could see their son walking down the lane-way. On a desk beside the window lay a pen and open notebook. On the paper was written: "The Character of Jesus. Jesus was sinless; he was humble; he championed the poor; he was unselfish; he was close to God" (Link, 1988, pp. 134). The mother understood that in a time of great crisis her son had turned to Christ for support. Quizzing her son later, as to whether he would continue in his goal to be a pilot, the boy replied: "Mom, I hope you and Dad will understand, but with God's help, I must continue to fly" (Link, 1988, p. 134). The boy eventually achieved the rare distinction of receiving his pilot's license before he obtained his motor vehicle license.
So where does the retelling of this tragic story lead?
Ambition forged out of a tragedy…
On July the 21st 1969, that little boy, Neil Armstrong, who had now become a man and an astronaut, hurtled toward the face of the moon, having been blasted into space upon a cylinder of explosive power. Shortly after landing Armstrong would address the world with the words: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Although history records that Armstrong was the first man on the moon — in actuality three people took the first step on that day; Neil Armstrong the Commander of the Apollo 11 craft — and two friends who as teenagers in the mid-West had shared a love of flight. The journey from the death of his friend to a footprint on the moon had been arduous and fraught with danger — but the dream had so captured his boyish heart that all trepidation seemed less than the hope of that one brief, shining moment; that took place — because the boy had dreamed a dream of a man.
The Gospel writers tell us of Christ in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, a man under such existential strain that he was in fact sweating blood. Why had this God made man, put Himself into such a predicament? The answer of course is out of depth of love, for those He had seen, lost without a shepherd. Here He was about to be brutally tortured, about to expend his last drop of blood — even for those who held Him in disdain. He knew He was to be betrayed; He knew that a crown of thorns would be placed on His head — He knew that He would die the loathsome death of the greatest outcasts and criminals known to Roman civilization. But He persisted — and He endured. The vision of His life's work — was vastly greater than all the torment that mere mortals could devise to cast upon His noble brow, or across the span of his back, or into His hands and feet.
More than any single step upon the moon, dedicated in memory to a lost friend; the purpose of Christ's mission, was to carry with Him, not the singular unfulfilled ambition of a student pilot, but the entire yearnings and sufferings of humanity — taking these upon Himself, on His shoulders, and in each step that led to Golgotha; culminating not only for the honour of mankind for a single day — but for the restoration of mankind and Creation from that glorious day forth unto the limitless reaches of Infinity. The Resurrection of Christ is incomparably the greatest leap for mankind, for it is not an achievement, but a victory over the two greatest nemeses that humanity knows: evil and death.
©2009 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania