Last week, during the 75th anniversary of D-Day, my son and I watched the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
The movie tells a fictional World War II story of a platoon, led by Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks), which is given a special mission – drop everything, head into enemy territory and locate Pvt. James Ryan.
Ryan is the youngest of four brothers fighting in the war. His three older brothers have all been killed in action, and their mother was being notified of all three deaths at the same time. The Army determines to find James Ryan and return him home, hoping to spare a family from sacrificing all their sons to war.
It is an impossible mission. Miller’s platoon is not on board. It is risky and unfair. What makes Pvt. Ryan’s life worth more than theirs? Capt. Miller is undeterred, and his men, complaining all the way, follow him.
They find Pvt. Ryan, overwhelm him with the news about his brothers, but cannot convince him to leave his men, who are holding down a town, waiting for reinforcements. The platoon agrees to stay until reinforcements arrive, but the Germans arrive first.
The scene is brutal. The fight goes on forever, and one by one, Miller’s men give up their lives for Pvt. Ryan. Capt. Miller eventually gives up his own life for Ryan.
Reflecting on the movie, I was reminded of how the Apostle Paul talks about grace:
“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15, NIV).
We are saved by grace, but grace is not an event. It is the ongoing power and presence of God in our lives. It is the gift of God’s activity in the world. You cannot experience God without grace. You cannot know God without grace. You cannot understand God’s will without grace. The Bible will never make sense to you without grace.
Paul is clear: Grace is more than some magic force holding the world together. Grace is the captain of the platoon sent by God to rescue the world and announce freedom from our enemy.
Of course, grace is inexorably linked to Jesus, and therefore, the Holy Spirit. Jesus was sent behind enemy lines to rescue the world from sin and set the captives free.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come and continue his mission on the battlefield. Grace is God moving toward VE Day when victory can finally be claimed.
The only thing required of us is surrender. Grace is here to set us free. Will we let it?
The Rev. Jason Smith is senior pastor of Salida Vineyard Church.