The cross on which our Lord was crucified has become the universal symbol for Christianity, replacing the fish symbol of the early church, though the latter has been revived in recent times. After the end of the persecution era, early in the fourth century, pilgrims began to travel to Jerusalem to visit and pray at the places associated with the life of Jesus. Helena, the mother of the emperor, was a Christian and, whilst overseeing excavations in the city, is said to have uncovered a cross, which many believed to be the Cross of Christ. A basilica was built on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and dedicated on this day in the year 335.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
who in the passion of your blessed Son
made an instrument of painful death
to be for us the means of life and peace:
grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ
that we may gladly suffer for his sake;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Praise the Lord, you that fear him;
O seed of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, O seed of Israel.
For he has not despised nor abhorred the suffering of the poor;
neither has he hidden his face from them;
but when they cried to him he heard them.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
I will perform my vows
in the presence of those that fear you.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord shall praise him;
their hearts shall live for ever.
All the ends of the earth
shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s
and he rules over the nations.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘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.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
In my ministry I often find myself talking about ‘love’. The context of these conversations is usually during the course of preparing many couples for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. All of those couples come to me with love in their hearts. They may have been together for a long time or just a few weeks. No matter how long their relationship has been growing, they have all reached the point of declaring their love for each other and wanting to turn those expressions of love into a lifelong commitment. It is after establishing the date for the wedding that the serious stuff begins and we begin to explore what ‘love’ really means.
In today’s reading we hear these oft-quoted words: For God so loved the world … That word ‘love’, we are being told, is the driving force behind God’s decision to enter this world some two thousand years ago. That ‘love’ is also at the heart of Jesus’ message to humanity: the love of God and the love of our fellow human beings, both friend and foe! The question is: what is meant by that word ‘love’?
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. In Greek there is not just one word that can be translated as ‘love’, but six. The subtlety of affectionate regard, familial love, self-love, hospitality and sexual passion … all of which we describe as ‘love’ … were given different words in the classical world. There was also the sixth word for ‘love’ … Agápe … which means brotherly love, charity, and the love of God for man and of man for God. This is the type of ‘love’ that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.
God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to share in the totality of the human experience, from birth to death. Furthermore, we are told why God took this dramatic step in the course of human history: in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus came and lived among us in order that we might see the power of self-sacrificial love, in order that we might learn to live in the same way and thus bring about God’s ambition for this world.
We are all well acquainted with Jesus’ teaching on our need to love God and neighbour, but those commands being ‘well-known’ does not make them any easier to obey. We struggle with the idea of living a life in which we offer unconditional love to anyone. Even those couples, in the first flush of love and romance, struggle with the notion of loving without the guarantee of a measurable return. And as for loving our enemies and our persecutors … !
Let us pray that we might come to know the profound nature of God’s love for us. Let us pray that we might come to demonstrate just a little of that divine love in the way we live out our daily lives. Let us pray that we might never give up in honouring God’s love for us as we strive to share that love with others … even our enemies.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray to the Father through his Son, who suffered on the cross for the world’s redemption.
Fill with your Spirit Christ’s broken body, the Church. Give to Christian people everywhere a deep longing to take up the cross and to understand its mysterious glory.
Bless those who lead the Church’s worship. In the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments, draw your people close to you.
Give your grace to those who preach your word to the nations. Help us to witness to the faith we have received by our words and in our deeds, and daily conform us more and more to Christ, that we may glory in his cross.
Look in your mercy upon the world you loved so much that you sent your Son to suffer and to die. Strengthen those who work to share the reconciliation won at such a cost upon the cross.
Bring healing by the wounds of Christ to all who are weighed down by pain and injustice. Help the lonely and the betrayed, the suffering and the dying, to find strength in the companionship of Jesus, and in his passion to know their salvation.
Welcome into paradise all who have left this world in your friendship. According to your promises, bring them with all your saints to share in the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Holy God, holy and strong,
holy and immortal,
have mercy on us.
Prayer for the week
Into the hands of your love and mercy,
O God our Father,
we commit our lives this day:
our work and the tasks that await us;
our homes and the members of our families;
our loved ones and especially those in need.
Give to us your guidance,
your strength and your protection,
according to our needs
and throughout this and every day
keep us abiding in your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.