I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.—Jeremiah 31:3
When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.—1 Peter 2:23-24
There is no greater witness to the everlasting love of God than his bloody, body broken on the cross. We live in a world of “this far and no further” love. We sign prenups and fade out of friendships and refuse to double-text. But God’s love is limitless. It’s stronger than idolatry or blasphemy or a slow slide into complacency. God’s love is so powerful that it made him weak. Faithful even in our faithlessness, God became man to die for us. This was no easy death; Jesus was killed in a manner so painful they had to make up a new word to describe it: excruciating.
As we were nailing him to the cross, he didn’t condemn us. He opened not his mouth. And when he did, it wasn’t to ridicule his tormentors or to threaten retribution. No, he prayed for us. Made excuses for us. That crowd had heard him preach and seen him heal and as they cried, “Crucify him!” he said, “Father, it’s not their fault. They don’t understand. Forgive them.” Oh, he is generous, this God of ours. Nailed to a cross so that we might be healed and still he pours out his love.
All he asks is this: do the same. Die to sin and live for righteousness. Be transformed.
Jesus gave his life to show us how to live. When he went to his cross, vilely wronged by people who should have known better, he forgave. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
What a shocking petition we gloss over in our daily prayers, binding ourselves to forgive or be condemned. It’s an easy line to ignore if only because ignoring makes out lives easier. But it’s impossible to overlook in the light of the cross.
The cross is a powerful witness of love and a terrifying call to conversion. It’s a promise that we will be loved no matter what and a demand that we leave our past behind, repent, and believe in the Gospel. As Lent draws to a close, we hear again and again of the anguish of our Lord, the incredible suffering he willingly took on to set us free. What if we went beyond gratitude to imitation?
What if this year we picked one tough relationship — just one — and chose to love like Christ? Even just for the next two weeks, what if we loved that difficult coworker or sullen teenager or distant spouse or estranged sibling with everlasting love? What if we chose to act with God’s faithfulness instead of matching the efforts of the other person and going no farther? What if we forgave the unforgivable because he did it first?
Well, then, I think we’d be saints. Even just for the next two weeks, I think we’d be powerful witnesses of God’s love and mercy. Once we’d managed it for two weeks, I think we’d be able to commit to another and another, with frequent trips to the confessional before starting again. I think many of the people we love would be transformed and the people around us, too. I think we would be healed and conformed to the image of the Son and I think the Church would be renewed. Not because you started a new religious order or preached to a million people or nursed a thousand people. Because in one relationship, you loved like Christ. As we approach our commemoration of his Passion, now’s as good a time as any to give it a shot.
Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog, “Held by His Pierced Hands,” and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults, leading retreats and parish missions.