Fellowship of the Ring
It began at West Pointe in 1835. It is a practice that has endured almost 200 years. You may have chosen to obtain one and undoubtedly you waited anxiously for it to arrive. Others of you weren’t really that into it and decided to pass. Some of you in the room may still wear it proudly as a pronouncement of accomplishment. Some of you may have simply discarded it into a drawer to be forgotten. You may have used it is to symbolize commitment or exclusiveness. When it was returned to you it may have been accompanied by pain and even a steady stream of tears. However, you would never have ascribed the power of life and death to this high school tradition.
Who knew that this tradition would also become the story of Easter?
You know the Easter Story or you wouldn’t be here today. The story of God who sent His Son to become man to die for us. A Son who bears our burden of our sin and becomes the great sacrifice. A Son who defeats death and comes to life again.
Most of us have heard it until we have become numb to it, but perhaps if I tell you the story a little differently today.
ALL LIGHTS & SCREENS GO OUT.
RING IS PLACED ON MARK.
SINGLE SPOT COMES UP ON RING
POWERPOINT SLIDE ON SCREEN
“By all rules, Skinner was a dead man.” With these words Arthur Bressi begins his retelling of the day he found his best friend in a World War II Japanese concentration camp.
The two were high school buddies. They grew up together in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania---playing ball, skipping school, double-dating. Arthur and Skinner were inseparable. It made sense, then, that when one joined the army, the other would as well. They rode the same troopship to the Philippines. That’s where they were separated. Skinner was on a rescue mission when Bataan fell to the Japanese in 1942. Arthur Bressi was captured a month later.
Through the prison grapevine, Arthur learned the whereabouts of his friend. Skinner was near death in a nearby camp. Arthur volunteered for work detail in the hope that his company might pass through the other camp. One day they did.
Arthur requested and was granted five minutes to find and speak to his friend. He knew to go to the sick side of the camp. It was divided into two sections—one for those expected to recover, the other for those given no hope. Those expected to die lived in a barracks called “zero ward.” That’s where Arthur found Skinner. He called his name, and out of the barracks walked the seventy-nine-pound shadow of the friend he had once known–– as he writes:
I stood at the wire fence of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Luzon and watched my childhood buddy, caked in filth and racked with the pain of multiple diseases, totter toward me. He was dead; only his boisterous spirit hadn’t left his body. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. His blue eyes, watery and dulled, locked on me and wouldn’t let go.
Malaria. Dysentery. Pellagra. Scurvy. Beriberi. Skinner’s body was a dormitory for tropical diseases. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t drink. He was nearly gone.
Arthur didn’t know what to do or say. His five minutes were nearly up. He began to finger the heavy knot of the handkerchief tied around his neck. In it was his high-school class ring. At the risk of punishment, he’d smuggled the ring into camp. Knowing the likelihood of catching a disease and the scarcity of treatment, he had been saving it to barter for medicine or food for himself. But one look at Skinner, and he knew he couldn’t save it any longer.
As he told his friend good-bye, he slipped the ring through the fence into Skinner’s frail hand and told him to “wheel and deal” with it. Skinner objected, but Arthur insisted. He turned and left, not knowing if he would ever see his friend alive again.
Skinner took the ring and buried it in the barracks floor.
The next day he took the biggest risk of his life. He approached the “kindest” of the guards and passed him the ring through the fence. The guard asked, “Is it valuable?” Skinner assured him that it was. The soldier smiled and slipped the ring into his pocket and left. A couple of days later he walked past Skinner and let a packet drop at his feet. Sulfa-nila-mide tablets. A day later he returned with limes to combat the scurvy. Then came a new pair of pants and some canned beef.
Within three weeks Skinner was on his feet. Within three months he was taken to the healthy side of the sick camp. In time he was able to work. As far as Skinner knew, he was the only American ever to leave the Zero Ward alive.
The ring elevated his position in the camp. The ring secured restoration. The ring brought provision. The common class ring brought salvation.
SOUNDTRACK FADES OUT.
LIGHTS FADE UP
That is the Easter Story! Arthur’s ring is the perfect illustration of what happened at Easter. However, there is another ring account that also communicates the power of Easter to us.
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.
A son is dead. A runaway. He has felt the cruel barbed wire of sickness. He is a shell of the man he once was. Isolated and left to die. A rebellious son slinks up the front drive expecting swift justice. Instead, the father runs up the drive seeking him out and responds with grace. At first read it sounds like what any father would do. But you must know the rest of the story.
This was a son that had wanted his father dead – give me my inheritance now. Give me what I can only have if you are dead.
This was a son that had soiled the father’s reputation and good name.
This was a son that wasted and squandered everything the father had worked for his whole life.
This was a son who turned up his nose at love, acceptance, and safety.
This was a filthy, pig mud, pig . . . pig . . . mud covered son.
He deserved no ring. What he deserved was judgment, punishment, and according to the culture of that day perhaps death.
Instead he is embraced. His filth forgotten. His sin covered. The family credit card if you will is placed back into his wallet. The authority of the father transferred back to the son. The signet ring of the family placed on is mud-caked hand.
The fellowship of the ring. Skinner’s story is our story. The prodigal’s story is our story.
Even though we wanted our savior dead, while we were yet sinners . . . still carrying the disease of prejudice, anger, lust, pride, overcome by the sickness of sin, hate, and addiction Christ died for us.
While we were trapped in zero world! No goodness. No hope. No righteousness. Nothing attractive or productive about us. He came seeking the lost! He didn’t go looking for us on the clean side of town. He made His way to sick side of camp. He came looking among the dying to find us. To save us. To free us. To rescue us. And not only did He come to find us He came to extend to us the ring.
The ring that He offers restores our position and our relationship with the Father. The ring He places on our hand secures our authority and access to provision again. The ring He risked His own life to make available to us robes us with righteousness and salvation!
Skinner attempted to refuse the very ring that would ultimately save his life. He almost declined the life giving gift his friend could give him.
I wonder if there are some here that have refused the gift of life that Christ has tried to provide for you? It is the greatest gift a loving father could ever extend to you . . . the gift of His eternal love! If you don’t accept the great gift of His love you are doomed to death in bondage.
Skinner leveraged the ring and it gained him privileges and a new lease on life. I wonder if maybe you are here today and even though you have taken hold of the ring of salvation you have failed to leverage the authority, provision, and the freedom that such a relationship with Christ can afford? You are saved, but you are still living in the prison! The ring of Christ’s love and resurrected life can bring complete and total freedom today.
Easter is about sons being able to live again! Sons on the dead side of town who have an opportunity for life. Jesus can nurse you back to strength and back to wholeness. The story of Easter is that if you are alive in Jesus nothing can hold you down! If the power that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you then you have access to the privileges and the power that you need to walk in freedom!
Jesus is looking through the fence today. He is offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. Today is your day to walk into the fellowship of the ring!