'For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son'. John 3:16
A father began a playful argument with his young child which continued for a very long time. It went like this: “I love you the most” to which the reply was always “No, I love you the mostest” to which the response was “No, I love you the mostest” to which the repost was “No, no, I love you the mostest” and so on. This carried on for many years until one day the child broke the cycle. As the father laid claim once more to loving his child the most, the child boldly said “No, God loves me the mostest.” It was a winning line and he was defeated by his young child.
Much is made of God’s love and rightly so. John tells us that “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them.” Yet so often our ideas of love are shaped by the world around us and not by the God who is love. We equate love with romance and physical intimacy yet at the heart of the Christian understanding of love is the Cross of Christ. We’ve travelled through the passion from John’s Gospel this afternoon – I always find it harrowing but I’m grateful for all who made it happen today. Much earlier in John’s Gospel he famously declares: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3.16). That Son who is lovingly given is of course Jesus and the giving of Jesus reaches its pinnacle in his death for us on the cross.
Our reading from the Prophet Isaiah today spells out the love displayed by Jesus on the Cross. There are no roses or romance.
'Without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes,
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrow and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried. (Isaiah 53.2b-4a)
For God so loved the world that Jesus took our suffering and sorrows upon himself. Sisters and brothers, this is the love of God displayed by Jesus on the cross: our sufferings and our sorrows crucified with Christ. Isaiah continues:
'Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.' (Isaiah 53.5)
There is a blues song from my youth that goes like this: 'I was there when they crucified my Lord, I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword, I rolled the dice when they pierced his side. But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide (U2 'When Love Comes to Town'). It is our faults and our sins that took Jesus to the cross. Each of crucified him, holding the scabbard, rolling the dice, piercing his side. It is our punishment that he takes for us so that we can go free, go in peace healed from the ravages of sin. Sisters and brothers, this is the love of God displayed by Jesus on the cross: our faults, our sins, our punishment crucified with Christ so that we can know freedom, peace and healing. This is love that conquers the great divide. Isaiah goes further:
'We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.'
The first verse of the familiar hymn “Amazing Grace” goes like this: 'Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.' It picks up the power of the Cross to bring those who are lost in sin and death back to life through Jesus’ sacrificing of himself. All of us go astray, all of us choose our way over God’s way. That is the very essence of sin, to choose our way over God’s way. It’s there in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve do the one thing they’ve been told not to. Crucially, it’s not there in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prays to the Father “Not my will but yours be done.” All of our lostness, our sinful waywardness is placed upon Jesus on the cross so that we can boldly, joyfully sing “I once was lost but now am found”, found by Jesus, freed by Jesus to return to the Father through his death for us on the cross. Sisters and brothers, this is the love of God displayed by Jesus on the cross: our sinful waywardness crucified with Christ so that we can return to the Father through the death of the Son in the power of the Spirit.
John famously says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3.16). This lavishly loving giving of the Son reaches its peak in the Cross of Christ. God is indeed love, but that love is not primarily romantic or erotic. God’s love for is sacrificial and cross-shaped as Christ takes upon himself our sufferings, our sorrows, our punishments, our sins so that we can be healed and set free to return to the Father. The young child had it right. God does love us the most and so let us gaze in wonder afresh at the love of God declared to all the world in the Cross of Christ. Amen. (from Fr Nick McKee, Director of Vocations).