As we begin our Lenten season tonight, it is good that we start our observance with the question from our opening hymn, “What wondrous Love is this?” What wondrous love is this, drives at the heart of Lent as we recall the profound gospel message that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, who took our sins to Calvary where he died so that we might live. What wondrous love is this, we ask ourselves tonight, because it is easy to get caught up in life’s worries, demanding routines and troubles that the message of love escapes us. Lent is our time to recapture the awe of God’s wondrous love, and in turn deepen our capacity to love.
In this shadows of this Ash Wednesday evening, we pause to think about love in a world that seems void of love. This past week, unfolding before our very eyes, we have been witnessing the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia, the daily bombardment of missiles, the air raids, the needless destruction, the strangulation of the Ukraine’s sovereignty and the flood of refugees. On other fronts we have been told once more that the earth is at a critical point is climate point, we will soon reach a point of no return and parts of the world will soon become inhabitable to life. We read of floods in Australia, droughts in nearly half of the United States. Where is love in all of this? What is troubling your heart tonight, that makes God’s wondrous love seem remote and inaccessible?
Not even Jesus seems loved very much, if at all, especially at the very end of his life. Nowhere in the gospels does it say that someone loved Jesus. The fickle crowds turn on him from shouts of hosanna on Palm Sunday to Crucify him! On Good Friday. Peter denies Jesus. Judas betrays him. The vast majority of disciples desert him. The religious leadership put him on trial and cooperate with the Roman authorities to see Jesus put to death. The only loving act bestowed on Jesus is the anointing of Jesus by Mary, with that costly perfume. Even this loving act is vociferously protested by the disciples, as they blame Mary for wasting the expensive ointment that could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus can’t even be loved without a fuss. Yet it is during this time where love appears withdrawn from Jesus, Jesus puts love front and center of his life. After washing his disciples’ feet Jesus declares: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is my command: Love each other." John 15:9 -17
It is interesting to note, that in one of the earliest recording teachings of Jesus, from the sermon on the plain which we need a few Sundays ago, Jesus makes love a core directive. Jesus first words about love are this: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-48 Luke 6:27-36. Love your enemies, Jesus said. What wondrous love is this, that commands us thus – to love those who would do us ill?
Toward the end of his earthly ministry, gospels record the following directive: Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:34-40” You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This the greatest and first commandment. And a Second is like it” You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What wondrous love is this, that commands us to love not just our friends, what all the people who live around us who may be different from ourselves?
So, Jesus bookends his teaching ministry with the command to love. From loving our enemies, to loving God, to loving our neighbor, to loving each other. That about covers the field. Love is what we are called to do, not just loving when it is easy, but when it is difficult, impossible except for the grace of God
So, it is right and fitting that we consider the season of Lent from the viewpoint of a God of Love, who seeks to reconcile with us, seeks our repentance so that we can be in union with him. With a God who wants only to lavish upon us love, a love that brings us to our senses, restores us to our right self, heals our hearts so we in turn can love properly and wholly. So, tonight God beckons us to follow the footsteps of a wondrous love that Jesus will reveal for us over these next six weeks.
Jesus guides us tonight, as we are called to acts of prayer, charity and fasting, to grasp that we are recipients of wondrous love. No matter how many times we fall or sink down in life Jesus is ready to pull us up. Lent may call us to reflect on our sins and failings but not as an end into itself. No matter how far we have fallen, no matter how many mistakes we make, no matter how engrained our faults our, or how dire our situation is, God loves us. Such wondrous love.
What Wondrous Love may begin with lament and sorrow, but it ultimately ends in wonder, in glorious praise. Not a sentimental love with emoji hearts and teddy bears, but a steely love of sacrificial acts for the wellbeing of others. If we follow Jesus, if we allow this wondrous love to seep into every nook and cranny of our lives, if we keep to his will, the sorrow and griefs we bear, even the scars of live that are always present, become illumed, charged with joyous song and praise. Our hearts cannot contain this wondrous love, it bursts forth in us in word and deed, we cannot contain it, even in troubled times. Deep in our world’s despair singing seems almost blasphemous – however in fact sacred singing is an act of defiance. As what wondrous Love models for us, we will sing to God and the Lamb, we will sing on, in face of all that evil or even death.
That’s what wondrous love does to us. It lifts sinful burdens from us, it frees our hearts with the fire of love and each one of us finds ourselves fitted with song that shares our true selves, beings of love that we are, created to love, created in love, by love and for love. By Easter we will not be able to contain ourselves. Filled with wondrous love, we will burst out in song, a new song, as the people liberated from slavery in Egypt respond with a new song, and as the saints in heaven fall down before the throne of God, singing a new song. Our world today needs this new song. Perhaps we see a glimpse of this, in Oksana Gulenko, who from inside her devastated apartment in Kyiv, sang her country's national anthem, titled (in English) 'Glory and Freedom of Ukraine Has not yet Perished'.
Even as we begin this night in sorrow and penitence, it is Wondrous love that finds us here, seeking to fill our hearts, to strengthen our feet, to ready us to be good news in a time of terror. So, as we begin Ash Wednesday mindful of our sins, committed to pray, good deeds and fasting in body and spirit, let us travel together each week. Let the songs of Lent, the songs we will sing over the next six weeks heal us and restore us to our nature to love. As our hymn teaches us to love once more may we fill the earth with the song of peace and justice, may it reverberate throughout eternity in an never ending chorus – with Jesus we’ll sing on, yes we will sing on. Amen.