It is easy to be cynical about this song, even if one is not instantly allergic to soft rock or romantic ballads, for the world overflows with the wreckage of loves that the lovers had truly felt would last forever.
Rare indeed in our world today is a love between two people that lasts from youth until old age and death and yet even then it may seem hyperbole to call it “endless”.
Speaking of “endless”, tonight’s readings – especially if all of them were read in their entirety – may have seemed endless to some in the congregation (and even perhaps to some in the sanctuary) and yet these readings present to us – in great beauty and in wonderful detail – a love that is truly endless: God’s love for his people, God’s love for us, God’s love for you and me.
These readings take us on an amazing journey through this truly endless love, beginning at the very beginning (Genesis 1:1-2:2):
In the beginning,
when God created the heavens and the earth…
We hear the care with which God created the world and everything in it. We hear the mindboggling honor given to us in our own creation:
God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And we hear God’s contentment in us and in the world he had created.
God looked at everything he had made,
and he found it very good.
And we know that, despite what we as individuals and as a race have done to ourselves and to the rest of God’s creation, deep down the goodness of God still dwells in all things – somehow, somewhere – needing God’s redemption.
The story of that redemption begins to be heard in the second reading (Genesis 22:1-18) in the account of Abraham and the near death of his beloved son Isaac.
On a basic level, this reading demonstrates that obedience and faithfulness are still possible “in this crazy, mixed up world”.
On more profound and so much more wonderful levels, this reading foreshadows the ultimate act of love and redemption: foreshadowed in Abraham’s words “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust” and foreshadowed by Abraham’s willingness to offer his son.
It does not take much imagination or scholarship to see these words and deeds fulfilled in God the Father’s gift of his only Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice would take away the sins of the world and lead to the glory of the resurrection (indeed, Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham’s near-sacrifice was an act of resurrection faith).
No matter how dark and hopeless the world may sometimes seem, faithfulness is still possible through the power of God’s love and grace.
The power of God’s redemption is revealed with unprecedented drama and majesty in tonight’s third reading (Exodus 14:15-15:1) as Moses parts the Red Sea, as the People of God are rescued in a way that was unimaginable, and as hatred and arrogance drive the forces of Pharaoh to their own destruction.
We have all heard this many times before and we have all seen that great scene in that movie with Charlton Heston. It is easy to forget, therefore, what it must have been like for the people of Israel on that night.
They are in a strange place, with no familiar landmarks. There is a dark cloud around them, making it impossible to see the massive army they know is out there, within moments of coming to kill them all. Suddenly they are face-to-face with a large body of water that cuts off any hope of escape.
None of them could ever have imagined what happened next.
They would be saved by what was up to then the most earthshaking surprise in history.
God’s power to save his people is stronger than human reckoning and the wisdom of his plan for our salvation is deeper than any human being could ever imagine.
All we need to do is to be faithful, to be loving, to be truly wise, and to trust – no matter what.
In the fourth reading (Isaiah 54:5-14), God’s redemption is expressed in ways that are intense, intimate and personal.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great tenderness I will take you back.
In an outburst of wrath, for a moment
I hid my face from you;
but with enduring love I take pity on you,
says the LORD, your redeemer.
We all seek love. Some of us think we have found our “endless love” and some of us have been devastated by love.
Tonight’s fourth reading reminds us of the love that is truly endless: the “enduring love” of God.
We may experience times of pain. We may even (God forbid) experience of wrath (brought about by our own sin, as individuals and as a race).
But the power of God’s love is always there, calling us back: calling us to experience the intimacy for which truly we were created, intimacy with infinity itself.
The ultimate, the perfect, the enduring, the true endless love that God has for us – for you and for me.
May we never be afraid of opening ourselves to the powerful and tender, mysterious and pure love of God.
Tonight’s fifth reading (Isaiah 55:1-11) spreads before us a wonderful and diverse banquet of forms and means by which God’s redemptive power comes to us.
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying
and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
It reminds us of how hopeless it is to find real and lasting fulfillment in the things of this world.
Why spend your money
for what is not bread,
for what fails to satisfy?
and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
Again and again, God rings for us the dinner bell of grace, calling us again and again to turn away from evil, selfishness and hollow pleasures, and to turn back to him.
Seek the LORD
while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
We may think ourselves intelligent, proud of our technological prowess even as we recognize in our heart of hearts that technology, science, and The Latest Thing have not made us happier – indeed, sometimes quite the opposite.
God offers us true wisdom and eternal happiness.
For my thoughts
are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways
my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens
are above the earth,
so high are my ways
above your ways
and my thoughts
above your thoughts.
And then, quite fittingly in the midst of this long set of readings, the Prophet reminds us of the power of God’s word.
For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
May we always take the time – each day and each week – to seek the Lord, to partake of his goodness (especially in the Sacraments), to read his Word, and to open ourselves to the grace and the wisdom that only he can give.
The role of God’s wisdom as a vehicle for his redeeming power becomes even more explicit in tonight’s sixth reading (Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4).
The metaphor here is not one of eating and drinking, but of location.
The prophet Baruch writes from the awful exile of Babylon, in the dusty land we now today as Iraq.
The people of God are literally in the wrong place.
How is it, Israel,
that you are in the land of your foes,
grown old in a foreign land…?
The metaphor is very apt for many of us.
How is it that we are where we are in our lives?
How did we let our lives take us so far off track?
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have dwelt in enduring peace.
Learn where prudence is,
where strength, where understanding;
that you may know also
where are length of days, and life,
where light of the eyes, and peace.
May we reach out to Christ, the eternal Wisdom of God.
May he teach us spiritual and emotional prudence.
May God make us truly wise.
The seventh reading (Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28) vividly describes the need of the People of God for redemption - their sin and their punishment – but also vividly describes the redemption that God promises.
As mentioned before, our lives and our sins have brought us to a place where we should not be.
I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.
We have let ourselves be soiled – in our thoughts, in our feelings, in our words, and in our bodies.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
We have deadened our conscience and our true feelings of compassion.
I will give you a new heart
and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you
and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
God can bring us home: spiritually and in every way.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
How will God do all this for us? How will God redeem us?
Tonight’s eighth reading (Romans 6:3-11) lays it out for explicitly: by dying and rising in Christ through baptism.
Are you unaware
that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him
through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
All we have to do, therefore, is live that way and think that way – by the power of his grace.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead,
dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
you too must think of yourselves
as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.
What makes all of this possible is described in the final reading, the powerful account in the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke (24:1-12):
on the first day of the week
who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone
rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body
of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this,
two men in dazzling garments
appeared to them.
They were terrified
and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
“Why do you seek the living one
among the dead?
He is not here,
but he has been raised."
Christ is risen.
Indeed, he is risen.
May we kneel before the risen Christ, may we open our hearts and lives to his redeeming power, and may we spread his truth everywhere, by our words, by our deeds, and by the endless love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(adapted from an earlier post)