On this, the darkest night of the church year, God himself — wholly innocent Love incarnate — was brutally murdered. And for what reason?
We could fill in the blank with any number of answers: Christ died because humankind wanted to kill him. Christ died because Sin was too powerful for us to escape on our own. Christ died because God required some kind of satisfaction for the rebellion and hatred shown him by his creation. All correct answers as far as theology goes.
But what I want to focus on tonight is the reason underlying them all. Jesus took up his cross because he wanted to. Jesus took up his cross because God so loved the world that he chose to die for it.
Which is an idea almost too big for us to grasp. If we were to imagine ourselves in the most extreme circumstances, we might just approach something resembling that love. We might think of the parents who have died for their children. Or of the men and women who have died for their country. Or the saying, There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.
But Jesus — Jesus laid down his life for his enemies. Jesus picked up his cross so that even those who cried “Crucify him” might be saved.
Why would he do this? Why would he who knew infinite power and perfect contentment count it all as nothing so that he might in every respect be tested as we are?
“To redeem a servant, the Father did not spare his Son.” Nor did the Son spare himself. He shouldered our burdens and carried our iniquities. He drank the cup that the Father had given him, all so that he might bring us before God, not as slaves or exiles but as brothers and sisters of the King.
In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, Who could believe the story we’re telling? The love of God is so extravagant, so prodigal, so ill-advised according to even the smallest amount of common sense that the life and death of Jesus will always be something of a mystery to us, a tale of bloodshed and tears that continues to teach and to touch and to heal those who hear it.
And so we call today “good.” We call today “good” — though centuries and societies have passed since Christ’s crucifixion — because Jesus’ love has not and will never change. As it was then, so it is now: Jesus loves us so deeply, so tenderly that he would die a thousand deaths if that was what it took to save a single one of us.
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
In the Cross of Christ we are given the incontrovertible proof of God’s commitment to all of creation: God so loved the world that he died for us — not because we were good enough to merit saving but simply because God’s love won’t rest until everything and everyone is reunited with him. Jesus chose to pour his life out on the altar of our salvation, knowing that no stain, no sin, no separation could withstand the power of his blood. This is the God we worship. A God who loves those he has made so profoundly that he would lay down his life to lift up ours.
On this, the darkest night of the church year, the altar is bare and our voices are hushed. But even in the darkness, light shines. Look on our Savior. See the blood from his wounds. Listen as he draws his last breath. His arms are stretched wide to embrace us all. He loves us. He loves us. He loves us. AMEN.