This week, this holy week, has been full of difficult and tense relationships. Our pastoral care has served broken relationships, abusive relationships, manipulative relationships and failed relationships. There have been lies and gossip, accusations and half-truths. There have been tears and unkind words. Yet there has also been listening, learning, forgiveness, honesty, reconciliation and glimpses of new life. Because through the love that we receive from God and the freedom we receive from God and the power we receive from God we have been able to offer new life, new chances, forgiveness, grace and acceptance. We can love powerfully and in transforming ways because God loves us and is in relationship with us. We love because Jesus loves us. As Jesus says at the end of John 17:25, just before the account of his death that we will hear read later, ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and those that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have love me may be in them, and I in them.’
We need to hear and know that we are loved. We are accepted. We are adored and cherished and valued. Not for what we do but for who we are, a child of God. God loves you.
The essence of faith for me is knowing that we are loved by God and are in relationship with him. That love is not earned or necessarily deserved. It is freely given. We are made in the image of God and we are cherished by him. He has known us from before we were conceived in our mother’s womb and he will know us into eternity.
The whole of scripture is about relationships. God with us, us with God and us with each other. And time and time again we read or hear about broken relationships, forgotten promises, fractured lines of communication. We strive and fail and fail again to live the way God wants us to. And sometimes we feel that God fails to be the God we want him to be. We feel let down, abandoned, disconnected. Yet at the heart of the failures and new starts there is love. A bond, a connection of love, that draws us deeper into the heart of God.
Jesus lived out relationships with his friends, his disciples, with the crowds, the passers-by and those who sought him out. Some of those relationships were deep, loving, lifegiving. Some of those relationships were fleeting yet life transforming, some were strained and difficult. Some needed forgiveness to flourish. But all whose accounts we read and hear were changed by being in relationship with Jesus, God’s son.
Jesus himself was in relationship with God his Father. He prayed to him. He did his will, he was obedient. He heard him speak, his knew his love and affirmation. And at times he felt abandoned by God, isolated, forsaken. Yet he was prepared to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice, in the ultimate act of love, to restore us into that intimate and eternal relationship with our creator. To die to bring us life, life in all its fullness. To die to remove the sin that might drives us to hide from God or deny the love of God, to restore all things, to make God’s love known.
There are many ways to view the action of Jesus dying on the cross. We see Jesus as the Passover lamb, the sacrifice, the payment for our sins, the restoration of broken promises, a new and final covenant. But at the heart of the death of Jesus is love and relationship and the promise of new life. The cross is place of suffering but also restoration. It is a place of obedience but also of freedom. It is a place of hate but also a place of love.
At our Experience Easter last week, I gathered with a group of 8 year olds around the cross. We talked about the symbols displayed there, the crown of thorns, the dice, the nails, the suffering, the pain. We talked about the terrible place the cross was and we explored the suffering. And we prayed for those who suffer now. One child prayed passionately about God transforming the life of the lonely. And one of the adults with him, who was lonely herself, heard his prayer and was touched and transformed. Touched that God would hear her prayer, articulated by a little boy and transformed because she suddenly realised that God understood and knew her loneliness because he was in relationship with her and because Jesus suffered as she suffered. The simple act of hearing that someone loved her enough to pray for her, that God would hear that prayer and standing there beneath the symbol of the cross and knowing the Jesus suffered the same loneliness and abandonment that she felt, brought her comfort and hope. It was a moment of restoration. And a moment of love.
The cross breaks down barriers between us and God. It shows us that God knows our suffering. The cross demonstrates love, freedom and forgiveness. It gives us a place to bring our hurt and suffering and resentment and to know that God understands it and will transform it. The cross shows the relationship God has with his creation and demonstrates that it is a relationship of love. We dwell at the cross today, but we know that we are healed and restored though the painful action of sacrifice and suffering. The gift of love, forgiveness, freedom and transformation is ours to receive.