Love Upon a Cross – Br. David Vryhof

davidv150x150Dear Friends in Christ,

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.”

  1. From the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” The Hymnal 1982, #474.
  2. 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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  1. Susan Gorman on April 10, 2015 at 11:38

    My question is what does the phrase ” by your holy cross you have redeemed the world” really mean? Is everyone in the world really redeemed, saved ? What does it really mean to be redeemed, to be saved? How does believing in a world redeemption change our theology, how we live and treat each other??

  2. Lissa Davis on April 6, 2015 at 11:25

    Listening to this sermon after watching AD. Always love the Brothers’ words, but seem even more alive now.

  3. Jana Everett on April 3, 2015 at 19:00

    This morning I participated in the Episcopal Peace Fellowship Urban Pilgrimage–we did the Stations of the Cross at various centers for the marginalized in downtown Denver–center for day laborers, day shelter for the homeless, homeless shelter, medical clinic for the poor, and then also a Vietnam memorial and the federal court building. The best part was when the director of El Centro (day laborer center) asked us to pose in solidarity in a picture protesting the imprisonment of many women migrants in Texas. Last night my church did a seder and it is the evening we have 20 homeless women guests for dinner and to spend the night. I felt privileged to sit at a table with the women who are homeless at the dinner.

  4. Ruth West on April 3, 2015 at 18:32

    Br. David, despite my negative comment a year ago re: the great mystic’s view, I want you to know that I think this is truly a great sermon. In paragraph #6 you stated “And cannot it not be?”
    I found the hymn “And Can It Be?” with words by Charles Wesley. It is such a wonderful hymn which reaffirms everything you have said. The refrain, “Amazing love! How can it not be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
    I have been privileged to participate in the Stations of the Cross several times lately. I do so adore Christ, realizing that by His Holy Cross, He has redeemed the world. What amazing love!
    Thank you for this sermon, so appropriate for today.

  5. Jane on April 3, 2015 at 17:13

    Today we remembered the love of the suffering servant, Christ- obedient even unto death on the cross. We sang together heart breaking hymns written out of love. One was My song is love unknown
    my Saviour’s love for me.
    and On a greenhill where we could picture a cross. between 2 others. I have been to Jerusalem and there a few green hills but whatever the spot, it was where Christ gave up His life for love of us.
    Thank you for all your meditations that deepen our faith andbring us closer to the Living Christ once more.

  6. Barbara Frazer Lowe on April 3, 2015 at 10:00

    Fully agree with Ruth West – such a jarring comment re fish hook in so reverent a message, which of course pays no attention to minor matters.

  7. Sarah Acland on April 3, 2015 at 09:49

    It’s Good Friday morning after a night broken by repeated thunder. This sermon seems just right for the day. The aweful experience of standing at the foot of the cross, or indeed last night before the Altarr of Repose, is very vividly evoked. I think my own experience of being hooked by Christ was quite similar to Meister Eckhart’s fishhook, although my image has always been that of a puppy lifted out of the litter by the nape of its neck!
    Every Good Friday the hook is more firmly set.

  8. Susan Thon on April 3, 2015 at 09:47

    I have no words. Well, only these:

    There were many ways
    and I took many
    if not most.
    In the end
    the new beginning
    the new beginnings
    all ways
    and still
    lead me
    draw me here to Love,
    To takie my stand
    To join the small company
    of your friends
    already gathered
    at the foot of the Cross.

  9. Scott Mairs on April 3, 2015 at 09:15

    This is a FANTASTIC sermon. I am more and more impressed with The SSJE as time continues to move forward.

  10. Barbara Cooke on April 21, 2014 at 13:03

    I was fortunate to spend Holy Week with the brothers this year, and heard Br. David preach this excellent sermon. After such a powerful rendering of the gospel narrative I wondered what more needed to be said, and in what manner that would not draw us away from the gospel narrative that was still reverberating in our hearts, minds, and bodies. Well, this sermon both honored what we had just experienced and led us into an even deeper reflection. Thank you, for this offering.

  11. Ruth West on April 19, 2014 at 22:52

    I can envision standing at the foot of the cross as I raise my eyes to his suffering body. What love for us! What love for me!
    I do not like the comparison by the 14th century mystic of God catching us as a fish on a hook. I think it gives the impression that God is out to take us against our will. I believe we must come to Him of our own free will, surrendering our souls, minds and bodies to Him. He does not force us.
    I suppose I am a bit brazen to disagree with one so loved and venerated as was M. Eckhart.
    Thank you for this good sermon, Br. David.

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