The Spirit of Sacrifice

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, on the eve of a battle where the King of England’s forces are outnumbered by French forces 5-1, a soldier declares: “Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the king’s company; his cause being just and his quarrel honorable.”

I found the line inspirational and memorable the first time I heard it. (I confess I wasn’t in a theater soaking up high culture; I saw it in a Star Trek clip. But FWIW, I did see the play later on.)

As it happens, the soldier in question is King Henry himself, who’s gone among his troops in disguise to find out what they’re really thinking and feeling. Knowing that, you might think his words are self-serving, but that’s not the way Shakespeare intends it. Henry really does believe that his cause is just and his quarrel with France is honorable; he really is prepared to die with his men, fighting against overwhelming odds. He won’t die — in fact, his forces will win — but he doesn’t know that.

This seems fitting to recall on Memorial Day.  Americans may be divided on a particular war — whether it’s just, wise, necessary —  but not on the warriors. Most everyone unites in support and admiration of the troops. If anything, we tend to romanticize them: Not all soldiers are heroes. But plenty of them are: They make remarkable sacrifices, even their own lives, for their beliefs and/or for their comrades in arms, AKA (as they were first called in Henry V) the “band of brothers.” That’s the spirit of sacrifice that Christ praises in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” 

On Memorial Day, Americans remember and praise that spirit. Those of us who are Christians, however, also are called to do more than admire it from a distance: We’re called to live in it. We may not be soldiers in a worldly sense, but we too are in the company — i.e., the service — of the King. We too are to sacrifice whatever we must in order to stand for Him and His truth. The world, the flesh and the devil call us to an easier path, shunning even inconvenience and unpopularity. But the Holy Spirit calls us to walk the harder way.

Most of us haven’t had to do that yet, and we can’t know how much sacrifice that may ultimately require of us. Here’s what we can know, though: When we consider our true King, we can say with total confidence that His cause is just and His quarrel is honorable.

Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in His company. How about you?