Here we stand at the foot of the cross. Our journey, step by step throughout the week, has brought us all the way to the cross. We stand with our Lord’s mother, the God-bearer. We stand with the other women and the beloved disciple. What can I say to express what Christ has done for us? I can only amplify what has been said. So I offer three words, or comments, to remind us of the truth.
My first word comes from today’s Collect: “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross. . . .”
It’s an unusual collect. One commentator calls it disarming. It is remarkable because it asks for only one thing: Almighty God, behold this your family! It says, “Look on us! Draw your attention to us as we rehearse this drama in two acts, the memory and vivid power of two indispensable acts [Christ’s death and resurrection] which took place on our behalf. Help us, O God, to enter into this.” That is a worthy request. So we stand at the foot of the cross asking God to be present with us as we behold our dying Lord Jesus Christ.
My second word comes from our reading in Isaiah. “All we, like sheep, have gone astray, / each of us has turned to our own way; / and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity [the sin, the guilt] of us all.” On Wednesday evening I mentioned that the prophet Isaiah wrote eight hundred years before Christ, as if Christ himself were speaking: “I offered my back to those who beat me, / my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; / I did not hide my face / from mocking and spitting.” Now Isaiah speaks again, as though standing with us at the foot of the cross: “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.”
As we gaze upon our dying Lord, we realize that each of us is that lost sheep. The Good Shepherd has left the ninety-nine, alone in the open country. He has gone to find you and to find me. The Good Shepherd pays the price to bring us back to the fold. To change the metaphor, each of us is the Prodigal Son or Daughter. Each of us has left home and has squandered God’s riches. Yet, the Father runs with open arms to welcome us. He has in mind a feast to celebrate our return. Our dying Lord Jesus Christ picks up the tab for the banquet. So we pray, “Almighty God, graciously behold this your family!”
My third word comes from two well known hymns. Perhaps you have already thought of the first one. It’s the spiritual, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” It takes us to
“Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? / Were you there when they
pierced him in the side? / Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? / Oh!
Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” Yes! We were there. Now, we are here as
they crucify our Lord.
There is also Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The third verse is my favorite: “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, / sorrow and love flow mingled down! / Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, / or thorns compose so rich a crown?” As Jesus hangs on the cross connecting heaven and earth vertically, his arms extend horizontally to the whole world. And the blood of Christ, effectually expressing the love of Christ, reaches all the peoples of the earth. “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, / or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
So here we are at the foot of the cross. Collectively we ask, “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”