What Wondrous Love Is This?
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We call this day “Good” and at the same time, it seems like the heaviest of days. It seems like a day suitable for hushed tones. A day of reverence. What do we do with this day? Do we mark it at all? Is it just another stat day? If you’re watching this today we’re going to mark it with reverence. When I say reverence, I mean respect tinged with awe. Of course, we come to this day with more than respect for Jesus. We’re invited to come to the cross with a deep love for him.
A deep love for the one who goes to the place where we can’t follow him. He’s issued the invitation hasn’t he – “Follow me.” He’s said, “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” We’ve asked the question “Why do you follow Jesus? What do the commands of man who lived over 2,000 years ago have to do with us?
But I don’t want us to think so much about why today. Let it be more about the how, as in “How can it be?” I invite us all this morning to come to this scene in silent awe. Filled with wonder, awestruck wonder as one of the songs we sing goes; lovestruck wonder even. We hear the story and we hear the echoes. What does this have to do with us? What does this have to do with me? “What is that to us?” is what the chief priests and elders said to Judas when, wracked with guilt, he brought back the 30 pieces of silver. We hear echoes of the prophet Jeremiah who said “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set…”
For anyone watching that day they would hear echoes of the Psalm that we heard earlier. The Psalms were and are the Jewish songbook, the Jewish prayer book. They were Jesus’ songbook and Jesus’ prayer book. Listen to the song – “All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver – let him rescue the one in whom he delights.’” “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” “They stare and gloat over me, they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
And this – “Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?” Spoken in Jesus’ mother tongue. The tongue he heard from the first moments of his life when he was held by his dear mother. She can’t hold him now, as much as it is breaking her heart and we remember the words about a sword piercing her heart. If we’ve been around long enough we might know something of what it’s like to have a sword pierce our heart. I’m talking about echoes now of the Christmas story and I want us to think about a line from one of our carols (because there is nothing wrong at all of thinking of Christmas in April or holding the birth of Christ in our hearts on the same day in which we hold in our hearts Christ’s death) – “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Everything we have ever hoped for, everything we have ever dreamed of, everything we have ever feared, everything that has caused us pain – is met at the cross.
In the person of Judas, we have betrayal and we have despair. In the figures of the religious rulers, we have jealousy and a desire to hold onto power. In the person of Pilate, we have political expediency and the desire for order above justice. In the person of Pilate’s wife, we have wise counsel and God communicating in dreams. In the person of Barabbas, we have a guilty man for whom Jesus dies in his place. We have people mocking and abusing. We have a man in Simon of Cyrene who is compelled into service and in that service comes face to face with Jesus. We have deep, deep irony as this man as the mocking cries of “Hail, King of the Jews!” ring out. All throughout Lent we’ve been asking “What sort of man is this?” and this is who he is! We have deep, deep irony in the mocking cries “He trusts in God, let God deliver him now” because not only is deliverance happening for Christ but deliverance is happening for all with eyes to see it and ears to hear it. So do not let us pass by. Let us stop in silent awe and wonder.
Let us be silent and reverent and thankful. Here at the cross is met all the joy we have known, all the loss we have known, all the sorrow have known, everyone we have missed; everything we have hoped for ourselves and those we love, all the hurt we have felt for ourselves, for those around us, for the world.
These things are all met in this man who hangs on the cross. All of our questions. All of our guilt. All of our shame. All of our desire to be better. The knowledge of who we are as we look in the mirror in the morning, and we know ourselves so well. The knowledge that despite all our will to do better, to be better, we’re in need of help.
We stand at the cross and we remember what he said about not resisting an evildoer. We remember what he said about reeds shaken by the wind as he is mockingly given a reed as a royal sceptre. We remember how he was asked “If you are the Son of God…” and how he was faithful in that test and we hear now the words “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” and we see him being faithful to the end, even to death. We see him being faithful to the end. Even to God's forsakenness. We talked not long ago about asking questions in faith and Jesus cries out the question which begins Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We talk often about the mysteries of faith in Jesus – trust that Jesus is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. This is one of them. I used to think “Well Jesus prayed that because he felt forsaken by God but he wasn’t really.” I wasn’t ready to accept that Jesus might be forsaken by God, perhaps because it made me afraid that God might forsake me. It’s too easy an explanation though and I don’t say that anymore. Something is happening here that’s beyond my ability to understand. It’s beyond my ability to understand what was going on when he who knew no sin was made sin for us.
And yet, and yet, I do know this. Jesus’ cry means that no one, no place, is God-forsaken. That no one is outside the love and grace and mercy of God. That there is nothing from which one cannot be brought back to God through God’s beloved Son. I know that there is always this word - “Yet”. On this day surely this is one of the most beautiful words in the language. On this day which I said is fit for hushed tones and silence and awe and reverence. We also hear echoes of these words:
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you, they trusted, and were not put to shame.”
“Yet it was you who took me from my mother’s womb, you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you, I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.”
“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”
Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and breathed his last. Matthew doesn’t record them but we have them from the Gospel of John and look at how they echo that last line of Psalm 22 – saying that he has done it.
It is finished. It is finished was his cry, alleluia what a Saviour indeed!
Which is how we can call this day of awestruck and lovestruck awe and reverence good my dear friends. When I was sinking down, oh my soul, oh my soul, when I was sinking down. Christ laid aside his crown, for my soul. For your soul. For all of God’s good creation. The sky itself goes dark. The rocks are split. The curtain is torn. A way has been made. The earth shakes.
The women wait. Let us wait along with them. Attentive. Watchful. Patient. Enduring. If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. So let us wait dear friends, on our King. The one who is faithful and true to the end. The one who enables faithfulness in us. As we sit at the cross on this day; as we reflect on the words of the story; as we sing praises; as we take up Jesus’ invitation to come around his table; may God give us hearts full of hope. May God give us hearts full of wonder on this and on every day. What wondrous love is this indeed. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. Amen