Today we are invited to take our stand at the foot of the Cross, joining the small company of Jesus’ friends who are already gathered there. We stand there together, under a dark and threatening sky, to witness the suffering of our Savior, to be with him in his hour of immense pain and desperate need, to feel with him the weight of the suffering and sin of the world, to bear that pain in our bodies as well. Our hearts are breaking with love – it hurts us to see him suffer in this way – and at the same time they are filled with awe at the magnitude of his self-offering, and with gratitude for what he accomplished for us here.
There stands with us Mary, his mother, living out in these terrible moments the bitter prophecy given by Simeon in the temple: “a sword will pierce your own soul, too” (Luke 2:35). And John, his beloved disciple and friend, who remains with him to the end. We stand with them, and with other lovers of Jesus, being drawn ever deeper into his love as we watch him “lay down his life for the ransom of many” (Mark 10:45).He is the “icon of the invisible God,” St Paul tells us (Col. 1:15), the image of the Divine dwelling among us, a sign of God’s boundless love to us and to all the world. And nowhere is that more evident than here. The Suffering Servant willingly bears the weight of the world’s anger, hatred, violence and greed. He receives the nails driven through his hands and feet, and the thorny crown pressed upon his head. He patiently endures the cruel taunts and mockery of his enemies. He hangs helplessly on the Cross, as soldiers cast lots for his clothing.
And he does this for love.
He is the Good Shepherd, who willingly lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). He is the Suffering Servant, who has “borne our grief and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:4). He is “the Lamb of God,” who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:36).
“God proves his love for us,” writes St Paul to the Christians in Rome, “in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “We know love by this,” the author of First John reminds us, “that he laid down his life for us…” (I John 3:16). “In this is love,” he goes on to say, “not that we loved God but that [God] loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).
“See, from his head, his hands, his feet; Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (1)
We have been captured by this love, smitten and overwhelmed by this love, changed and transformed by this love. And how could it not be? “We love because he first loved us,” the author of First John tells us (I John 4:19). By this powerful sign of God’s love for us we have come to know ourselves as beloved children of God (I John 3:1); we have been given a new identity in Christ. And by this powerful sign of God’s love for us we have discovered a new way of life, the way of dying and rising, the way of humble service and self-giving love. No wonder it was said of St Francis of Assisi, one of the greatest lovers of God in all of history, that “the crucifix was his Bible.” In Christ on the Cross, Francis recognized not only the wideness of God’s loving embrace, but also the pattern for his own life. He taught his fellow Franciscans to pray whenever they entered a church, saying, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”
We do adore you, O Christ, and we do bless you, for in this great Sacrifice you have redeemed the world. In it, you have won a great Victory and opened for us the path to Life – a life that is rich, abundant, and eternal.
Meister Eckhart, the great Christian mystic of the early 14th century, likens us to fish who have taken the bait of love. We have been wooed by God, captured and overwhelmed by Love. At first we swam this way and that, trying to shake ourselves loose so that we could follow our own way. But God, like a patient angler, has gradually drawn us in – to God’s self; into the very heart of God’s love. And the closer we have come, the more we have experienced the freedom that comes from being deeply and unconditionally loved. With the love of God, says Eckhart, we are able to accept and endure whatever happens to us. We are free to gently forgive the harm that is done to us. If you take this hook, says Eckhart, everything about you belongs to God. The more hooked you are on God, the more freedom you will experience. (2)
“When I am lifted up…,” Jesus said, “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
Tonight we have stood before the Cross and witnessed a Great Love, poured out for us and for all the world. We have witnessed the suffering of the One who cried out, “I thirst,” and the triumph of the One who cried out, “It is finished.” And now, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”
- From the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” The Hymnal 1982, #474.
- From Nearer to the Heart of God, Daily Readings with the Christian Mystics, compiled and edited by Bernard Bangley (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2005); pages 73-74.
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