The Christmas Cactus Blooms In April
Dear Friends:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
John 15:13

Our Christmas cactus is blooming. Its crimson flowers are a startling contrast to the emerald green leaves.

The plant belonged to my father and is at least 30 years old. It usually blooms around Christmas. It requires cool weather and 12-13 hours of darkness every night for eight weeks to bloom. Sometimes it is necessary to cover it with a cloth to convince it that it is winter and the season to flower.

But it is late April. The unusually cold spring weather brought heavy snowfall to our mountains. It apparently provoked the red blossoms that symbolize the blood of Christ and the green leaves representing eternal life.

It has been a stormy, frigid spring in more ways than the weather. Death blasted our consciousness with the Virginia Tech murders. I was deeply troubled by the event.

My career is devoted to protection and advocacy of the vibrant communities of higher education. The pursuit of truth and knowledge within institutional walls carries with it inherent tensions and occasional heartbreak. The very freedom and openness of a university campus makes it vulnerable to anti-social madness and malicious intent. Yet, to make a campus absolutely secure against danger would destroy the soul of the community that resides there.

Liviu Librescu understood this. He was a Jew who survived the Nazi camps of the holocaust as a boy. He was a teacher and scientist who lost his academic position for resisting the efforts of the communist state in Romania to manipulate his scholarship. He was an emigrant to Israel who realized that continual diligence is necessary to maintain faith and freedom. He was an engineer who devoted his life to constructing aeronautical technology to withstand extreme external pressures. He was a champion of international cooperation who understood that freedom is essential to true peace. He was a gifted and popular teacher who loved his students and wanted their best. He was a man of spiritual devotion whose favorite time of the week was entering into the Hebrew
Shabbat by lighting the candles signifying the peace and wholeness to be found in God alone.

Librescu heard the shots in Norris Hall with ears that were trained to hear the slightest nuance in change of pitch of wind rushing against an airplane fuselage. The sound didn't belong. He knew from experience that the best-intended institutions and communities are vulnerable to the dark violence that coerces rather than persuades and recognizes no dimensions beyond control or destroy. As a man of faith and survivor of state oppression, Librescu knew that ultimately theory has no significance without application.

So he positioned himself to block the door and insisted that his students leave. The gunman, Seung-hui Cho, shot Librescu twice through the door even as Librescu urged the students to get out through the window. Finally, Cho pushed his way in and shot Librescu three more times killing him along with the last two students who hadn't made it out. Twenty-three students did escape. They know that their teacher gave his life to save theirs without question or consideration of merit. This was truly an act of grace.

In a selfish, fearful world, Librescu's sacrifice is a shining beacon of what selfless love can do. His son Joseph told ABC news: "He had a fire in him--he was not tall, but he was hard, he was hard...He was a passionate person." An academic colleague, Piergiovanni Maccozan said, "It didn't surprise me at all that he stayed behind. I'm sure he wouldn't have left the room until everyone else was out. He cared about so many people... He was much loved."

Liviu Librescu was already a great man of science and service. You travel by commercial airliners more safely because of his contributions to aeronautical design and materials. He died a hero on April 16, 2007 which was also
Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. You can read more about the life and death of this amazing man at

Moses told the Children of Israel that he had set before them life and death. He urged them to choose life by living lives of loving deeds in reliance on the grace of a loving God (Deut. 30:15-21). Librescu believed this and he made his choice. This empowered him to live a courageous life which was much more than one brave act.

You can invade a campus building to murder its occupants in hatred. Or, you can enter that building to research and teach ways of helping humans soar through the skies and into outer space in safety. God created humans with choice and even after that power of choice was abused by sin, he still pursued and pursues his erring children in love "not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Seung-hui Cho knew of Jesus Christ and claimed to be in his mold by sacrificing himself. But Cho did not know the Jesus Christ of the Cross who gave himself in love and did not take in violence. Jesus came for life and took the responsibility for its eternal preservation. Cho at the end denied choice and responsibility and murdered, while complaining that those he hated "made me do this!"

For those of us who believe that God manifested himself in love in the unique person of Jesus Christ to give his innocent and holy life for ours, Liviu Librescu's sacrifice reminds us of a great truth expressed by the Apostle Paul:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if we are still enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Rom. 5:6-11).
Librescu gave his life for 23 students on a blood-darkened spring morning. Jesus Christ died for all of us--"A" "B" "C" "D" and even "F" students--on a dark, stormy afternoon, 2000 springs ago.

Out of the overcast gloom of this spring, our Christmas cactus bleeds crimson blossoms. I, with heart troubled by sin and death, pause to marvel at the beauty rising out of cold and darkness. I am reminded that in my heart I am as ungodly as Seung-Hui Cho but Christ died for us both anyway. "Thank You, Lord," I pray and walk on out into the new and warmer morning.

"O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him" (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

April 30, 2007