Fairly recently, a member of the congregation gave me a wooden duck that they had carved and smoothed.  I have instructions to gift it to my mum when I return to Somerset later this year.  It’s something tactile for mum to hold on those days when mum isn’t feeling so well.  Something to remind her that there are folks on the other side of the world thinking of, and praying for her.  Over the years I have built up my own collection of wooden crosses that are similarly rounded and smooth – designed to fit into the palm of a hand.  As a chaplain, I have observed how folks have been able to talk more freely while their hands are occupied with something.

My mum makes little crosses.  They come with a Gospel poem that anyone my age or older literally needs a magnifying glass to read!  But they are beautiful, precious to me, and they are made in love.  During my chaplaincy years I have distributed them far and wide – on Good Friday services, sometimes at funerals, often to folks searching for hope and meaning.  Last Sunday, after our morning service, I handed out mum’s crosses to folk as they made their way out to morning tea.  In Sunday’s Gospel, we had heard again Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”  I handed out mum’s crosses as a reminder of the cross as God’s great act of saving love.

I remember serving with Kairos Prison Ministry, and being presented with a cross before my first day inside.  I wore it years later on my ordination day, and have worn it regularly since.  For me, it’s a symbol of God’s love and power to save, in a world where love and safety can be scarce.

In this week’s Gospel, when Nicodemus arrived in darkness with questions for Jesus, could he have ever imagined hearing those words of eternal life?  That Jesus has been sent in love, to die for us, being raised up on a cross – just like Moses’ snake in the desert – so that in believing, we all may have eternal life.  Life for a look at the crucified one – as the old hymn puts it.

Nicodemus would have been familiar with the story of Moses and the snake, but so much of the Scripture that Nicodemus already knew had in fact been pointing to this Jesus who was right there before him!  Like the angel of the LORD providing a ram to take Isaac’s place and foreshadowing the arrival of God’s Own Lamb to take all our places; or like Isaiah speaking of one “taking up our infirmities and carrying our sorrows, pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace laid upon him”; or like David saying, “so great is God’s faithful love… As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.  As a father has compassion on His children…”

Paul says, “we preach Christ crucified.”  Why?  Because God has loved us with an everlasting love.  And because that love is revealed completely on the cross.  And, as Jesus says to the crowd: “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have everlasting life.”  Everyone who looks up.

God so loved the world… with an uncontainable, wild, reckless, complete and everlasting love, that He came Himself, to take our burden of sin, to carry our sorrows, to bring us peace and new life, to adopt us and bring us into His family… if we believe in Him, if we look up.

Brennan Manning said it well: “I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a tea cup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.” I visited Niagara Falls nearly twenty years ago.  I remember how I could hear the roar of the waters from half a mile away.  There’s a beautiful song that carries the line, “Love me like an ocean drowns a sinking ship.”  Let me be overcome with that great love.  Let me hear, and let me feel the roar of it.

And if the cross is where I best see that love and compassion in action, then, like the hymn says, “I will cling to the old rugged cross.”


Scripture references – John 3:1-21, Num 21:4-9, Gen 22:12-14, Is 53, Ps 103:11-13, 1 Cor 1:23, Jer 31:3, John 6:40

“There is life in a look at the Crucified One” is by John Parker
“Love me like an ocean…” is taken from “Make peace with it” by Jadea Kelly
The Old Rugged Cross is by George Bennard