“Daddy, how much do you love me?” What father hasn’t played this game with their kids? And what loving father hasn’t stretched out their arms and said “Thiiiis much!” and wrapped their child in a big hug. So when our Heavenly Father wanted to show us how much He loves us, He sent Jesus Christ to stretch His arms wide on the cross as a symbol of his limitless love.
But this love is not meant to be one-directional. And though limitless, it’s not unconditional.
When you read the Gospels, the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us of Jesus’ two commandments: to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” But it is only in the Gospel of John where we learn the condition of God’s love. In no less than a half-dozen instances, John records Jesus telling us to show our love for Him and for God by keeping His commandments.
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
“He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
“The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.”
As we contemplate Jesus’ life and death on the cross this Lenten season, we need to remember why Jesus was sent here: It wasn’t just to die for our sins. It was to show us how much God loves us. It was also to teach us how to abide in God’s love. Like any loving earthly father, our Heavenly Father wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to obey His rules, yes. But He also wants us to know that we can come to Him when we break those rules, and if we are truly penitent then He will forgive us.
At the moment that prophecy was complete, when Christ cried out “It is finished!” and surrendered His spirit, “the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.” The temple curtain separated the sanctum sanctorum, or “holy of holies”, from the congregation. Inside was the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God, where only the Levite priests were allowed to enter. So when the temple curtain, as thick as a man’s hand, was torn from top down at the precise moment of Christ’s death, it exposed the dwelling place of God to everyone for the first time since the Exodus. This is not an insignificant detail in Matthew’s Gospel. It is proof that God wants a personal relationship with each one of us.
God, like any loving father, wants a meaningful and loving relationship with us. We can experience His love through the sacraments. We prove our love for Him by obeying His commandments. And we can establish our relationship with Him by “rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”