Nearness has never been a purely physical relational dynamic. How many times has a photograph, recording, perhaps a telephone call, or even a thought brought someone or some event far away up close in our hearts and minds? We can't deny the power of proximity, like the joy of turning in a drive way, or approaching a face-to-face encounter with the people or places that are dear to us. At times, however, a cherished object, or even a smell can create in us a memory or longing of someone or someplace or some thing that is actually far away. I remember several months after our son Brian was killed I grabbed one of his old shirts from the closet and was instantly taken back by his unique aroma. He was suddenly very near.
Then again, there is the mystery of drift, the human dilemma when those precious reminders are stored or filed, no longer in our immediate view, and the nearness isn't so obvious and pressing. I guess that's why most of us keep pictures, artifacts, notes, and so many other reminders in sight, gentle prods to quicken our memory and facilitate that sense of nearness to those things we value.
Scripture is very clear about the possibility of our nearness to God. Human nature, that is, the innate sinfulness of mankind places our species at odds with the Father. Yes, he loves us, all of us, in an undeniable way. You know, "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16, ESV). Even as we are loved there is humanly insurmountable distance between us and the Heavenly Father. Only our faith in Christ and affirmation of his work on the cross can bridge this separation. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, testified to the potential of our being brought near---
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood
Ephesians 2:13, ESV
It is a thrilling truth that those "...who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ". Stained humans like me can experience the joy, hope, peace, and nearness of a personal relationship with the Creator of all things. What a miracle, to be brought near.
Human drift can happen here too. The cross of Christ and the living truth of his death and resurrection can be preempted by our preoccupation with the urgencies of every day living. Those critical elements can become veiled backdrop in the motions of life. That's why being filled with the Spirit (see Ephesians 5:18) is a continuous spiritual discipline of Christian living. The Spirit, according to the Apostle Paul is given that "...we might understand the things freely given us by God" (1 Corinthians 2:12, ESV). The guidance of the Holy Spirit keeps the cross and empty tomb central to our understanding of faith, in the process guarding us against drift. It enables in us what some theologians call the cruciform life, experience influence by the cross and the empty tomb. It is comprehension that is crucial to the life of faith.
This isn't favorite old hymn week for me, but one of the traditional Easter hymns is really a prayer about maintaining personal nearness to that old rugged cross. It was written by blind lyricist Fanny Crosby to music supplied by William Howard Doane, published in 1869. The words are a powerful plea for Jesus to keep us near the cross so that we don't drift from the Gospel of his death and resurrection. The words move me---
1 Jesus, keep me near the cross, There a precious fountain; Free to all, a healing stream, Flows from Calv'ry's mountain.
In the cross, in the cross Be my glory ever, Till my ransomed soul shall find Rest beyond the river.
2 Near the cross, a trembling soul, Love and mercy found me; There the Bright and Morning Star Shed His beams around me. [Refrain]
3 Near the cross! O lamb of God, Bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day With its shadow o'er me. [Refrain]
4 Near the cross! I'll watch and wait, Hoping, trusting ever; Till I reach the golden strand, Just beyond the river. [Refrain]
(Copied from the 1991 Baptist Hymnal).
That's the prayer I'm lifting, and singing, as we approach Easter 2019. In so many ways the advent of Spring, the fashion parade of the season, and so many other secular concerns shift us to those life issues that comprise our tendencies to drift. These miracles, Christ's death and resurrection, make possible our nearness to God. And, perhaps an old hymn like this one can keep our focus on this Gospel that has changed the word.
Sing it. Pray it. Celebrate the miracle of nearness. That old rugged cross is closer than we think.