God made a covenant with us. The word covenant means “coming together.” God wants to come together with us. In many of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we see that God appears as a God who defends us against our enemies, protects us against dangers, and guides us to freedom. God is God-for-us. When Jesus comes a new dimension of the covenant is revealed. In Jesus, God is born, grows to maturity, lives, suffers, and dies as we do. God is God-with-us. Finally, when Jesus leaves he promises the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God reveals the full depth of the covenant. God wants to be as close to us as our breath. God wants to breathe in us, so that all we say, think and do is completely inspired by God. God is God-within-us. Thus God’s covenant reveals to us to how much God loves us.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
I’ve been thinking about God’s love for us this Lent. I remember my disappointment when I first discovered that the word “Lent” comes merely from the Middle English lenten, lengthen. I wanted it to have some meaning that conveyed more of the sense I had of Lent as a time between, a waiting time. A time when the usual preoccupations are placed in abeyance—for that is what fasting is—in order that we can see clearly the way of the Cross, the way we all must walk if we follow our Saviour.
Nouwen’s words here, the movement from God-for-us, through God-with-us to God-within-us, describe somehow our own journey on the path of faith. Well, mine at least. It is not till we realise that, in some way we cannot yet understand, the universe is in the hand of one whose love for us, whose will to our good, is beyond any love we have ever known, that we can understand why Christ would be born, fragile flesh out of fragile flesh, to walk among us, Emmanuel, God-with-us, touchable, woundable, able to be killed. It is not till we have seen his love, known his smile, the warmth of his hand lifting us, his voice saying, “Do not be afraid…” that we can begin to understand the Cross. And it is only as we stand with his mother beneath that cross that we can see what resurrection means, how far he had to rise that blessed morning that he met the other Mary in the half-light and asked the reason for her tears. Unless they are our tears too, we cannot know what Jesus meant when he said that we will know his Spirit, because he will be in us. (John 14.15-17) Only as we weep now for all the world’s loss and pain can the risen Christ dwell in us (John 17.23), for his hands are wounded still, and his side pierced. His glory, his victory, carry his woundedness beyond death to everlasting life—and so shall we be ourselves (John 17.22,24)—for he is forever the Lamb who was slain, yet lives, and his death has brought us life that will outlast the stars (Romans 5.10).