There’s a hymn that never fails to bring me to tears: “My Song is Love Unknown.” We often sing it at communion and so rarely get through all seven verses. But when I see it in the bulletin, I hope there is a big crowd that day so we can get through them all. Every word of that hymn speaks to me—“never was love, never was grief like thine.” The words are by Samuel Crossman, a 17th-century poet who, like others of that period—George Herbert, Robert Herrick, John Donne—wrote of the mystery of God’s selfless love.
What touches me so dearly in these verses is God’s unconditional love for each of us; how he spent his life on earth trying to get us to understand that he came down from heaven for us, no strings attached; that even though we are determined to go in one direction, away from God, he is determined that we shall go another.
I grew up in a Dutch Calvinist community and attended Calvin (as in “John”) College. We certainly learned of God’s love and salvation but we also got a healthy dose of “total depravity,” how each of us was born into sin. As an English major, I was drawn to a class of metaphysical 17th-century poets (maybe because it was the 70s) and particularly recall a poem of George Herbert’s called “Love (III),” which at the time was so unnatural for a reticent Calvinist like me: “Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love [God/Jesus/Savior] observing me grew slack from my first entrance in, drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning if I lack’d anything.”
The concept that Christ would pursue me, would choose me—someone born into sin, someone who grew up resisting love without any conditions—with grace, listening calmly to my cares, and say: “And know you not who bore the blame?” Please, Love was saying, sit down, you poor stressed-out soul, you who always thought you were worthless, I have selflessly and lovingly taken your sins: “You must sit down, says love, and taste my meat.”
I realized there were no more excuses left for me, I could not deny this suitor. God’s love was there for me to take. “So I did sit and eat.” Even though I accept it with joy and gladness it will always make me cry.
Barbara Van Woerkom
Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Luke 19:28-40, Luke 23:1-49