Let me begin with a story:
About nine years ago I found myself in the retreat centre for the Ely Diocese for a three day period. The reason I was there was that I was on something called a Bishop’s Advisory Panel, or a B.A.P. A B.A.P. is the selection conference you go on to be assessed for your suitability to train for ordained ministry. One component of the assessment is that you have to give a short presentation to a group of fellow candidates. So one afternoon I found myself listening to a presentation given by a very academic type. It is fair to say that the presentation was not going well. In fact the presenter, who did end up getting ordained, knew that his presentation was unravelling so, in an effort to rescue his the situation, he decided to ask the following question: what is your favourite hymn?
I quickly settled on an answer, and blow me the first person in the group nominated my hymn. Then the second person nominated the next hymn that came to my mind and thus it continued, and I began to panic; big time. In fact my brain froze and I couldn’t remember a single hymn! This troubled me deeply because I happen to know that I have been singing hymns since at least June 1974, for this was the date on which I received my primary school hymn book: Christian Praise. I had at that stage been singing hymns for around 40 years yet I couldn’t remember a single one of them.
Finally, just as it was getting to my turn a hymn came to mind, chosen probably because my B.A.P. was just after Holy Week: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. When I vocalised my choice I experienced two sensations: a feeling of approval from the assessors and a sense that my fellow candidates were thinking ‘you smug so and so.’
But, the truth is that we, God’s people, should spend some time on a regular basis surveying The Wondrous Cross. We shouldn’t do so only on Good Friday, for it is through surveying the Wondrous Cross that our faith deepens, our discipleship grows, our innate holiness is ripened and we grow in Christian wisdom. We need to regularly gaze at the crucified Jesus, for the cross is the place where we learn about two things: what humans, you and me, are capable of at our very worst and what God is truly like. When we learn to survey the Wondrous Cross what we see is human weakness and divine strength. What we see is the limit of human power and the limitlessness of divine power. When we survey the Wondrous Cross we see human hatred encountered and transformed by divine love: what we see is Love, Love, Love; that’s what we see, and begin to absorb for ourselves when we stop at the cross.