Jesus of Nazareth. Martin Luther King Jnr. Ayrton Senna. You could probably connect the first two, but what’s Senna doing there?
As the world marks the 50th anniversary of MLK’s death, it brought to mind some other ‘untimely’ deaths that have caused me to to soul-search recently – and a remarkable characteristic they all seemed to share.
Last week was Holy Week. The events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday are rightly the focus, but I have been more struck by the sense of foreboding that Jesus started speaking of in the weeks beforehand. He was undoubtedly aware of the Messianic prophecies that He would be fulfilling, but there seems to have come a point when generalities started to become imminently more specific & personal. “[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. … As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Then of course it all culminates in the Garden of Gethsemane: “‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ …And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly“.
A few months ago I watched the film Senna. I recommend it. Even Mrs Shields enjoyed it (rather than endured it – as she usually does with my film choices!) As the trailer says: Genius. Maverick. Outsider. Superstar. Legend. What it omitted to say was Devout and Humble. Person after person testified to Senna’s faith & humility. He spoke personally about some of his experiences whilst driving in almost celestial terms. But it was his almost eerie premonition of his own death that gave me shivers. “On that morning when [Senna] woke up, he asked God to talk to him. He opened the Bible and read a passage which said God would give him the greatest of all gifts. Which was God himself. A crash!”
Which brings us to the amazing, spine-chilling, speech by Martin Luther King Jnr. Not the one everyone usually thinks of, but the one he made on the eve of his assassination.
Listening to these words from his final speech – his voice choked with emotion, his eyes welling with tears – it’s easy to believe that the LORD had given him another dream besides the one he’s famous for: a premonition of his impending death.
What utter commitment, conviction & resolution each of these men had to fulfill their personal, God-given callings. Their divine calling became their literal passion. To foresee your own, untimely death and walk resolutely into it, without fear or flinching, is surely what distinguishes men like these from the rest of us. And for both Senna & MLK (as well as the countless other martyrs) it is Christ’s own passion that was both the source & the strength for their own.
What must it be like to sense that God is calling you home? To know that the mountaintop from which you have been able to glimpse the promised land is also creating the valley of death through which you must walk. How much more vivid & lucid must the words of Psalm 23 become?