Sisters and brothers of FUMC Decatur,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! As I write this from the pastor’s office, I find that I’m filled with gratitude for your faithfulness to Christ through this church. The more I learn about the history of Decatur and the vital role the people called Methodists have played here for more than a century and a half, the more sincerely I thank God for bringing me here and allowing me to serve as minister among you. It’s a special honor to arrive here so close to Holy Week and Easter. The events of that first Holy Week and Easter were the ultimate revelation of God’s love for human beings. Nothing shows the depth of God’s love for us like the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I’m eager to encounter that love alongside you this Easter season.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the eternal Son of God, fully God and fully human, God himself revealed in human form—is the very heart of the Christian faith. When God the Father sent his Son into the world, and when God the Son willingly came and died for us, something happened that had never happened before in the history of the universe. Our three-in-one God, through what Jesus did, experienced pain and separation so we wouldn’t have to. This was the greatest sacrifice that has ever been made, and it was all done out of love for you and me.
Let me try to illustrate this for you. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had to adjust to a new experience: dropping our twin daughters Eve and Adah off at daycare on my way into the office. Annie and I were relieved to find that our United Methodist friends at the Wesley Early Learning Center just down the road in Boyd had a program for 1-year-olds, so we signed our girls up. It’s a wonderful ministry and a huge help to us as working parents, but I’ve got to tell you, that first morning was hard. Walking out of that building on the first day, with my little girls crying desperately for me to come back, felt like surgery without anesthesia. Driving away, I felt as though I’d left behind two parts of my own body. I felt bad for having caused them pain and distress by leaving them behind, but there was also a very real pain in my own heart. Apparently, I was as grieved to be parted from them as they were to be parted from me. Why? Because I love them like crazy.
It’s natural to experience pain and loss when parting from someone we love. Even when it’s just for a short while and we know we’ll see them again soon, we still miss them. Some people in our lives are so important to us that being away from them just feels unnatural. I’m willing to bet there’s someone in your life who means this much to you, too. Maybe it’s a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or an especially beloved friend. There are just some people who, when we’re with them, it’s clear that we belong together. Parting from these people is one of the hardest things to do. Those among us who have experienced the death of such a beloved person know this more acutely than anyone else.
This human experience of pain and loss gives us just the tiniest glimpse of what God did for us on that first Easter. Holy Scripture reveals that, for all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had dwelt in the closest possible relationship with one another. The closest human relationship we can imagine—a parent, a child, and the spirit of love between the two—is the best metaphor our language can manage, and yet the reality of the communion between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is beyond mere words and images. The Father, out of love for you and me, was willing to send his Son into the world, knowing how he would suffer. The Son, out of love for you and me, was willing to leave his Father, knowing it would lead to the cross. God didn’t have to do this, but he freely chose to do it. Why? Because he loves you. He would rather suffer all this pain and loss himself than let you be lost forever.
The Puritan writer John Flavel, in his book The Fountain of Life Opened Up (1671), put it this way: “What an astonishing act of love was this, then, for the Father to give the delight, the darling of his soul, out of his very bosom, for poor sinners! All tongues must needs pause and falter that attempt the expressions of his grace, expressions being here swallowed up: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.’ […] What a hole (as I may say) hath the death of some children made in the hearts of some parents, which will never be closed up in this world! Yet surely never did any child lie so close to a parent’s heart as Christ did to his Father’s; and yet he willingly parts with him, though his only one, the Son of his delights, and that to death, a cursed death, for sinners, for the worst of sinners. O the admirable love of God to men! Matchless love! A love past finding out!”
The fullness of God’s love for us is indeed “past finding out.” It’s greater than we’ll ever fully understand. Nonetheless, we catch a glimpse of it at Easter. Let’s catch that glimpse of it together at FUMC Decatur.
Dr. Nick McRae
Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Decatur
The Faith Once for All Delivered to the Saints