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by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To pose the question, 'How can you love someone so much that you would give your life for them?' 

Preparation and materials

  • You might like to have available video clips from the films and so on mentioned in the 'Assembly', Step 3, and the means to show them, but this is optional.


  1. 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' This is a famous quote and is often used. Does anyone know who said it? Don't tell me. If you know, keep it to yourselves for the moment.

    Whether you know who said it or not, it is going to form the basis of our assembly today. We are going to talk about acts of self-sacrifice - times when someone chooses to give something up or do something for someone else, not thinking of themselves.

  2. The idea of self-sacrifice can bring up some interesting ideas - sacrificing your wishes for those of others. I wonder if you've ever done something that you didn't really want to do but knew the other person wanted it more. An example might be that you went somewhere for a sibling’s birthday and you really didn't enjoy it, but you went because you knew it was important to him or her. 

  3. Literature is riddled with incidences of people who have given their lives in order to save another or others. I hope I'm not going to spoil any of the following books, films and so on in the following examples, but there is the Inquisitor in the Mortal Instruments series, Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. Aslan gives up his life for Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund is a traitor and Aslan is innocent of any wrongdoing, yet he puts himself in Edmund’s place as a sacrifice to 'appease the dark magic'. I am sure you can all call to mind books or films that you have read or seen in which people have put another or others before themselves. In Frozen, Anna chooses to save her sister rather than consider her own life and happiness and, thus, proved that only true love can thaw a frozen heart.

    Play the video clips, if using.

  4. I wonder if you've ever sacrificed something for others or the greater good? If, as mentioned earlier, you have done something for a sibling or friends because you knew it would make them happy rather than for your own benefit, you will know what this is. If you look at little children playing, there are times when one wants what the other has. The struggle inwardly in the small child, deciding whether to do the right thing and share the toy with the other child or keep it, is obvious from the facial expressions.

  5. This isn't to say that you should always be the one making the sacrifices and never put yourself first. If that happens too often, if you always acquiesce to other people’s requests and wishes, you end up doing nothing that you want to do, which isn't fair either. It's about knowing when to make sacrifices and when to stand firm. 

  6. Returning to the quote I gave you at the beginning of the assembly. Does anyone know whose words they are?

    Jesus is attributed with saying this shortly before he was taken by the Romans and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Jesus may well be the ultimate example of self-sacrifice as, Christians believe, he died to show us how much God loves humanity. Whether you believe in jJsus or not, his words - 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends' (John 15.13, KJV) - have been found to apply in other contexts, too. 

  7. In the armed forces, there is a medal called the Victoria Cross, which is the hightest military decoration, awarded for acts of extreme bravery. Often it is given posthumously (those receiving it have died). Often, it is awarded to people who have given their lives so that others might live. We, as human beings, recognize the selflessness of such acts and award such medals or value civilians who have acted similarly because they have put others before themselves to the point where they have paid the ultimate price.

Time for reflection

So, have you made sacrifices for others and do you see others making sacrifices for you?

Let’s take a moment to think about that today.

Hopefully you will be able to see self-sacrifice at work and be grateful for such acts, however small they may be.

We shall close by saying the prayer of Ignatius Loyola.

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; 
to give and not to count the cost; 
to fight and not to heed the wounds; 
to toil and not to seek for rest; 
to labour and not to ask for any reward, 
save that of knowing that we do your will.

Publication date: November 2015   (Vol.17 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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