LENT REFLECTION AND MEDITATION MARCH 17TH

Lenten Reflection March 2021

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

These beautiful and challenging words are taken from the final verse of the hymn I’ve chosen for us to reflect upon today. And so with these words in mind, let us pray:

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, forgive us, as we are reminded today that we owe you so much and all too often, give back so little in return. Today as we are reminded of how You loved us so much that You were willing to die for us, help us to offer you our all, in return. Amen

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride

 Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.

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?

 Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

 

Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748)

These wonderful words from penned by Isaac Watts have to be one of my very favourite Passiontide hymns. They are so dignified and so restrained and yet so passionate and so very, very powerful. As a singer, I believe that they are at their best when sung reverently and quietly, until those final words ~ ‘Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all”, which literally call for our all power and conviction in their delivery.

The first two lines take us straight to Calvary, that seemingly Godforsaken place where Our Lord can be seen hanging from a wooden crossbeam; His cross placed between two convicted criminals. It almost as if we are there looking on, we are there in that small gathering of people who had followed Him from the Galilee and then finally, through the streets of Jerusalem on that first Good Friday to the hill called Golgotha – the place of the skull.

Can you picture it in your mind?

I wonder what you see, what do you hear?

And most importantly, what do you feel?

It is a bleak sight indeed. Our Bible tells us that Jesus endured the torment of crucifixion from the third hour (Jewish Calendar timings) (between approximately 9am and noon in our current daily timings) until his death at the ninth hour – about 3pm.

St Mark records that darkness descended upon the whole region from around midday. In Jewish scriptures, such darknesses were associated with tragedy.

So the picture in our mind’s eye just has to be an incredibly bleak one. This was no bright, sunny spring day, it was dark and it was foreboding.

And the sounds – I have always imagined it being eerily quiet for much of the time, save for the moaning of those in pain on the crossbeams and the muffled and stifled cries of those who stood as we are told ‘at a distance’.

And what do I feel as my mind pictures this image?

I think most of all, the sight and sounds in my head fill me with an incredible sadness. Sadness, not only that when God came to earth, this was humankind’s response, but huge sadness that I truly believe we would do it all again – obviously not the crucifixion as we are imagining today, but I do believe we would find another way to destroy and get rid of Him.

I think for me, this Good Friday hymn, like so many others, encourages us to remember that we are not merely onlookers, but participants, the crucifixion is not to be an event fixed back in the annuls of time, it is to be current in our hearts and minds and we should allow those shocking events to speak to us in the here and the now.

Our Good Friday prayers often remind us that we are complicit in that crucifixion – that metaphorically, we crucify Jesus again and again when our words and actions deny Him, when we turn away when He needs us to act on His behalf?

The words of the first verse paint the picture of the crucifixion in our mind’s eye, but they go further than that. They also remind us that all we hold to be important, is not. It cannot be more important than that moment when the Prince of Peace gave everything for us as He stretched His arms open wide and allowed Himself to take the nails, to willingly sacrifice Himself so that we could be eternally saved.

What is the most courageous thing you can think of any human being doing which might have meant them making such an enormous sacrifice?

Do you think that the fact that they knew that Jesus had died for them, gave them the strength for their own act of selflessness?

Do you think Jesus is there when this happens?

Why do you think the very last thing so many people say with their dying breaths is the Lord’s Prayer?

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.

The second verse reminds us of our twisted values, of all our arrogance, of the fact that we all too often think we can do things without God.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God!

God on the cross – a suffering God, but all too often, a God who is not considered to be enough.

Have there been times in your life when you have believed you could go it alone, without God?

What were the circumstances? What happened?

Have there been times when you have turned your back on God?

Again, what were the circumstances? What happened?

If so…

Did you re-find God, or did He find you?

Did He ever leave you?

Do you think God ever deserts a person?

Even a bad person?

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?

The third verse takes us right back to Golgotha where we are asked to picture the bleeding head, hands and feet of Christ. There is absolutely no doubt that His body would have been a bloodied mess from the scourging and from the tortuous walk to Calvary – but we are particularly asked to focus upon His head – crowned with thorns of the most vicious variety – long and intensely sharp. His hands, bound and his wrists punctured with nails. His feet, cross and nailed together, held up on the smallest of wooden supports to ensure His death would have been slow and excruciatingly painful. There seems to be very little that is ‘wondrous’ to survey in this scene, rather pain and suffering.

I’ve been told by a number of people over the years that they ‘don’t do Good Friday’– they prefer to just celebrate Easter Day.

I wonder what you think about this?

Is it possible to rejoice at the Resurrection if you have not identified with the suffering of Jesus at His crucifixion?

Is it within our human nature to turn our heads away at something that is distasteful, and therefore, the sight of a bloodied and battered naked body breathing it’s last upon the cross?

Is it because we have knowledge of the extent to which people used to throng to hangings and public executions even within our own society, and we don’t want to be associated with that level of behaviour?

Why do you think people shun Good Friday, but embrace Easter Day?

 Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I do think that the final verse is the most challenging for us, if, when we sing the words, we take onboard the meaning behind them.

Watts suggests that if we had everything in the world at our disposal, it would be totally worthless in comparison with the love of Christ, that sacrifice freely given, upon that cross.

His words don’t simply encourages us to love in return; they demand! As far as Watts is concerned, there is no choice in the matter.

It is interesting because we are taught that the love of Christ is freely, but here we are being told that this very same love – amazing and divine, demands our whole being. It is about total self-dedication, a life submitted, for a life given.

During this time of Lent, we are encouraged to consider how we dedicate ourselves to God, to what degree, and on whose terms.

Perhaps in the days ahead we might reflect upon this very point – do we limit our dedication? Do we choose how we submit to Christ? Do we put our own limits and conditions on our service to God?

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for your faithfulness to us, for your willingness to face death of the worst possible kind for us. Forgive us when our own commitment is poor, when we place conditions and limitations on what we are willing to give in return. Help us to better understand what it means to dedicate ourselves fully to your purpose. Help us to live as your people in the world, to be your eyes, your ears and your heart of limitless love. Amen

Short Time of Meditation

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Love so amazing, so divine

Given to us for all time

Lean now into that love

Let it envelope you

Focus upon the place in your body where your heart lies

And feel that love

Love so amazing, so divine

Given to us, for all time

Lean into that love

And know that those all encircling arms are not only holding you,

but are holding all those who are dear to you

Picture them now in your mind’s eye

See the love of God enfolding them, holding them close

Focus upon the place in your body, where your heart lies

And feel that love for those you love

Love so amazing, so divine

Given to us for all time

Given for all on Calvary’s hill

For those who do good and also for those who do ill

God’s love is for all

That’s what He said

To the thief to His side

As He hung His head and let His life slip away

Human life gone, but His love here to stay

Love so amazing, so divine

Given to us for all time

Lean on that love

Let it envelope you again

Let it lift from you, all that causes dis-ease,

all that causes you pain

Focus upon the place where your heart lies

And feel that love

Just feel that love

Eternal, so amazing, so divine and freely given for all time.

Amen