Sermon preached at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel
March 21, 2010
As we approach the end of this Lenten series on Atonement, I can’t help but wonder whether our centuries of elaborate theories, on which the whole church has never agreed, don’t point to a more basic hesitation to believe the fundamental claim that we have indeed been reconciled with God. That somehow, through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, whatever barrier may have existed between us and the Holy One has been definitively torn down.
We puzzle at this possibility and ask with Charles Wesley’s hymn:
And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be?
How indeed can it be, we wonder – probing the mechanisms by which Jesus might bring humankind into union with God.
But we miss the point altogether if we forget to marvel at that union itself, at the reconciliation which exists and the connection which endures. It is this kind of wondering that Wesley invites in the next verse of that same hymn:
‘Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies! Who can explore his strange design?
‘Tis mercy all; let earth adore. Let angel minds inquire no more.
A strange mystery indeed … stranger still if we can imagine how un-like us God is sometimes, most of all in the amazing extravagance of unconditional love. Can it be, atonement theories aside, that God might simply love us, for no reason, and with no reservations, through a strange mystery that boggles our minds as much as the Psalmist’s proclamation of rivers in the desert.
Can it be that we are saved by love? Full stop.