May 6, 2018 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:9–15:17
Sixth Sunday of Easter[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Death is coming for you.
This past weekend was a pretty big weekend for Marvel Studios. The release of Avengers: Infinity War, the third movie in the Avengers series of Super Hero team-ups, is now reported to have been the biggest box office ever. For the past ten years, the Marvel movies have been leading up to this event, bringing together dozens of characters from almost 40 hours’ worth of big-screen adventures. Understandably, expectations were high – you need a big story to weave all those different stories together. You need a threat that can challenge Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, especially when you have to factor in a bunch of additional heroes who operate across the vast reaches of the cosmos. So how about a threat that could wipe out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers?
In the comic books, Thanos is known as the Mad Titan. For decades, he has stood as one of the most fearsome villains in the Marvel Universe. We caught our first glimpse of Thanos in the end credits of the first Avengers film, setting him up to be the “big bad” behind the scenes of the past ten years’ Marvel movies. Infinity War is Thanos’ movie. He’s the central character, and it’s all about his journey to achieve his goal. He’s powerful in and of himself, strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the strongest super heroes. But he’s looking for more power, power to accomplish something that lies beyond the grasp of mere mortals.
In both the comics and the movie – no spoilers here – Thanos pursues the Infinity Stones (called “Infinity Gems” in the comics). These six stones have served as the cinematic MacGuffins which have motivated the heroes and villains of most of the Marvel movies to date. Without diving into their origin story, all you need to know about these cosmic artifacts is that each of the Infinity Stones grants its user absolute control over one of the fundamental aspects of the universe as we know it: Power, Space, Reality, Time, Soul, and Mind. If someone were able to harness all six of the stones together, they would obtain virtually godlike abilities. Thanos’ reason for wanting the Infinity Stones and the infinite power they grant is simple: he wants to kill off half of the universe.
When you’ve got a villain with a goal such as that, he’d better have a solid name. So why “Thanos?” The Greek word for death is thanatos (θάνατος). That’s what Thanos’ name should have been; but Jim Starlin, the character’s creator, simply thought the word was spelled differently.
The reasons for Thanos’ motivations differ between the comics and the movies. In the former, Thanos idolizes death – or rather, he desperately wants to win the affection of the personification of Death in the Marvel Universe – so much so that he offers her the “gift” of genocide on a universal scale. In the film, Thanos explains that he’s ultimately trying to preserve life; he’s simply using mass genocide as a tool for population control. He sees himself as the lone actor who cares enough about the universe who can nor will do what needs be done. However the Mad Titan might spin it, though, Thanos is still all about death – and death is still coming for you.
That’s a problem. You and I don’t have to deal with a Mad Titan. We do have to deal with death. And we don’t have access to Infinity Stones that can change reality or wind back time. We lose people that we love. We hear news of death in the media, coming again and again. We’ll even lose our own lives to death, no matter what we might do to push back its advance. To quote the band Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind.” And that’s a pretty bleak future to be left facing, knowing that can’t do anything to change what’s coming. Death is coming for you, and it’s inevitable. What’s stronger than death?
Love is. Not just any love, but God’s love. The Bible is the story of God’s love, love that breaks in to our world of death to bring life. We limited human beings have a problem understanding the infinite. But what the Bible teaches us is that Son of God stepped into our humanity to deliver us from the power of death. While Thanos seeks godlike power to bring death, Jesus set aside his infinite power as God to become one of us in order to bring life. Jesus, the Servant King, was the lone actor who could or would do what needed to be done to save all of creation. He laid down his life for us so that we might experience God’s love and restored life with Him.
A price needed to be paid. Avoiding Infinity War spoilers, all I’ll say is that you’ll see how different characters come to terms with that reality as their story progresses through the film. Today, we are people who have been redeemed, bought back from sin and death through Christ’s sacrificial life and death on the cross, living now in the victory of his resurrection. So how will the price paid shape your life?
Speaking to his disciples before his suffering and death, Jesus said to them, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13) As you and I follow him, he calls us to love each other, our neighbors, and even our enemies with the love that God has for us. Let us love one another.
God’s infinite love, love that we see lived out for us in Christ, is the only power that overcomes sin and death. That infinite love continues to transform our world, even when the mightiest heroes do not seem able to stand.
This weekend is a pretty big weekend for St. John’s and our life together. We’re celebrating the Rite of Confirmation for four of our young people. They will stand up before our community in Christ and reaffirm the vows made at their Baptism, when they were united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. Pray for them, that they may be made strong to stand in Christ even as this world of death attacks their faith. They’re like you. We’ve told our confirmands and their families that “Confirmation is not graduation.” It’s not an ending. It’s a milestone in the journey of the Christian life. These young men join with you, people who are not super heroes but rather followers of the one true Hero who laid down his life for those he calls his friends.
Even though death is coming for you, you can look ahead to the life which is yours even now in Christ. He has won the war, and he calls you his friend.
[i] This week’s memory passage:
[Jesus said:] “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13 (ESV)