Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12:20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--"Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

            “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all things to myself” says the Christ, and how that had already begun. For here we with sit Christ at the Passover feast and all those whom has drawn to himself, his disciples and the crowd that witnessed him bringing Lazarus back from the dead, not to mention those drawn in by the sweet fragrance of perfume, as Mary, in an unencumbered display of gratitude,  anoints Jesus for his death.  And now, this drawing is beginning to expand in wild and unpredictable ways.  All of a sudden, some Greeks happen upon the scene, and they too have been drawn by this Jesus.  They, in spite of their ethnicity and right in the middle of this Jewish High Holy Day in this most Jewish of cities, they too wish to see this Jesus, this most Jewish of Messiahs. Past the stiff borders of ethnicity, wealth and class, they, too, wish to see Jesus and they, too, are invited to come and feast with this Messiah.   To comprehend, as if they could, the fullness of this God in the flesh,  this one who welcomes sinners and literally dines with the formerly dead.   They, the Greeks come to glimpse, if only for one brief moment, a man, indeed a God, in whom all of life might begin to rest, a God who forgive them their sins and ease their troubles, a God in whom the creation can begin to breathe and be given back to itself.   Yes, the drawing has begun and indeed has continued, so enticing is this Christ.
Please notice, though, the chaos and crisis mingling with the sweet smell of perfume. The hour is rapidly approaching, and this Jesus knows.  Though they may feast and dance in Jerusalem on this day, cruel forces are near.   Right in the midst of this drawing, right as the disciples, Lazarus, Mary and the Greeks are drawn to the heavenly glory that radiates from this Son of God, malevolent forces are being drawn, as well.   Forces that see the Son of Man bestowing life and forgiveness, forces that observe Christ gathering together Jew and Greek, male and female, pious sinners and holy fools, these forces too are drawn to this Christ and they are drawn not to celebrate him, not to glory in his mercy and kindness, but they are drawn to control and destroy him.  Forces that coldly observe the sweetness of this Messiah, forces that will work his destruction, these forces, too, are gathering and near. 
And in all of this, the hour is approaching.  The hour in which the Son of Man will be left alone, those whom he had once been drawn now calculating the risk of staying near him and thinking it too much, yes, that hour is coming.  The hour in which he will gaze down at his dear mother from the cross and give to her another son. The hour in which the Son of Man will be abandoned to the dark forces, left alone even by his Father to do battle with the prince of this world, with the one who wishes not just his destruction, but the destruction of all good things.  And so this is not just any hour, not just some ordinary passing of the minutes.  Instead, it is, as Jesus has said the hour.  The hour in which all of cosmic history will be forever and irrevocably changed, indeed in which cosmic history will be resurrected and the burning love of the divine will be released from on high.  Yes, this that hour.  The hour in which Jesus will draw the sin of the world to himself, will draw all malice and envy, all greed, all fear, all pride, all rage and all fear, yes, Jesus will draw all of this to himself.  He will take all of this onto his own body and will see the love of his Father eclipsed by a seemingly impenetrable darkness.  His once loving Father now turned to absolute judge, and the Holy Spirit of communion now weeping in discord, as a Father loses his son and a son loses his Father. 
 Ah, but how deep the mystery that this is actually the way that the victory is won.   That in, with and under this hour is the song of perpetual bliss.  That this Christ draws these sins to himself only that he may defeat them.  And that he will defeat the powers of hell, will drive out the ruler of this world, the enemy of us all, by drawing that enemy to himself and letting him do his worst. For once that terrible beast has exhaled all of its rage, Christ himself, Christ in all of his love and forgiveness, will be the only truth that now remains.  And though we will be scattered, though we will leave him alone in this, the time of trial, he will refuse to do the same to us.  Instead, he will look upon us, look at us from on high, and will again draw us to himself.  And it is of the most importance that we are drawn now, drawn after the hour and not before it, after the betrayal and the scattering, after we, too, have calculated the risk and the cost of all this and have decided that we, too, must leave him.  For it is only when we are drawn in this way that we begin to understand the incredible cost, the unspeakable difficulty, of the thing that has been accomplished.  It is only when we are drawn to this Christ after the hour that the truth is told and revealed about both God and ourselves.  For, as the Christ says, we must die in order to live: and this is the death that we must undergo: the death that believes that we would come to the cross, that we would stay with Jesus during his hour.  Yes, we must die to the presumption that we would, that we could, chose him if he did not first chose us. We must die to the presumption that we know how to love our neighbors without Christ’s empowerment and instruction.  We must die to the notion that we know who we are apart from Christ’s love and can work out this problem of our will and by our own strength.  And this is why we are drawn, along with the whole of creation, as the Son is lifted up.  For it is then and only then that we are drawn as we actually are: as frightened sinners. Yes, for when he does so from the cross, Christ draws us as we actually are and therefore there can be no doubt as to the certainty, indeed the truthfulness, of his forgiveness.  For you are drawn to this Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by the one who sees you in the fullness of your humanity and forgives you still.   And this is true freedom.  To know that you have been drawn to this cross, to this place of abundant life, just as you are without plea, as the old hymn goes.  This is the freedom that gives you a new and everlasting identity as a beloved child God and it is the freedom to leave your doubts and fears behind.  It is indeed the freedom to love each other, to love all whom you meet. You are drawn here, here to this place by the love that was present at the beginning of creation and the love that will be there at the end.  And it is this love that names you and your neighbor.  It is the love of the Christ whose hour it always is.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 3:14-21
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."


My much beloved younger brother, the great Alex Nickel, has always been one for mischief.  Case in point, when I was a teenager and he in 6th grade, he, by accident, nearly burned down our house as he was playing with a cigarette lighter.  When he was realized what had happened, he had the good sense to call 911 and get the fire department out immediately.  Fortunately, there was minimal damage done to the house, as a table on our back porch was the only real casualty.   What was really interesting, however, was the discussion that ensued between the firemen and my younger brother as to cause of this fire.  Like any person caught in a horrible situation, my brother’s first instinct was self-preservation. Rather than initially owning up to what had happened, he concocted any number of wild theories, including some man that he saw in the backyard who could have been responsible for the fire.  You can better believe that once my mother got a hold of him, the truth came out, and quickly.   Now the reason I bring this up is to not speak poorly of my younger brother; he is, in fact, one of the most incredible people I will ever have the good fortune to know and  love, and I sort of beam with fraternal pride just thinking about him. Yes, what we are after is not something peculiar to my brother, but something that is universal about the human situation, and it is this: we just do not like to admit when we are wrong, when we have acted in a way that is contrary to who we believe ourselves to be.  Is there anything more difficult than admitting that we are wrong?  Yes, more often than not, we prefer to justify and rationalize, to explain to ourselves and to one another that what we have done or left undone, this really isn’t our fault.  Especially in situations of conflict with other people, our preferred course is to blame them, to assign any number of ill intentions to their behavior towards us, indeed to think as uncharitably as possible about them, only that we may free ourselves from the guilt that may be ours in the situation.  But in doing, we cost ourselves and one another a great deal.  We build up years of resentment, years of denial, that keep us in bondage and that weigh us down.  Though these coping strategies may help with the momentary guilt and pain of being wrong, they do way more damage than good in the long term.  In the end, they generally tend to consume us. 
We can, I suppose, take a small amount of comfort in the knowledge that this instinctive denial is as old as humanity itself.  First exhibit: the Israelites wandering in the desert after having been freed from Egypt’s cruel hand of slavery.  Enough time has passed for this crew to have forgotten the horrors of slavery, and against the monotonous offerings of manna from heaven,  they  begin waxing nostalgic about how good they had it back in Egypt, at least in regard to the food that they ate.  To this sort of horrid faithlessness, God responds by sending snakes in their midst to bite them.  When these Israelites recognize what is happening, some literally dying in their midst, they beg Moses to pray to God for mercy.  The result is the creation of a bronze snake that heals those suffering with poisonous bites.  Now this all might sound a bit strange, but rather than getting into what my friend Nadia called “God’s odd homeopathic regiment,”  we would do well to focus on what is being asked of the Israelites here.  Instead of being able to ignore the fact that they continued to question and grumble against both God and Moses, having quickly forgotten the mighty act of liberation that sprang them from unspeakable cruelty, they are going to need to look at their unfaithfulness, to confront the snakes that were the consequences of that unfaithfulness.  There is no way to get to healing without confronting the source of the illness.  For our ancestors in faith, healing could not mean denial of what they had done.  Instead, they had to come to grips with it, to tell the truth about themselves and admit their hardness of heart, admit to their stubbornness and pain.  Healing, then, cannot ever mean an attempt to step back-over the circumstances of human stubborn and fragility, nor can it ever mean a denial of these realities. Yes, genuine healing requires a confrontation, at the very root level, with those things that we have done to bring illness on ourselves.
And it is this confrontation that Jesus has in mind in this conversation with Nicodemus that we have picked up in mid-stream. While our attention will inevitably be drawn to John 3:16 and the various images and associations that this verse conjures up for us, to focus solely on that verse is robbing ourselves of the whole message that Christ is imparting.  Indeed, though we often hear this passage as a message about the degree and amount of God’s love (God love the world sooooooooooo much . . .), that sort of reading actually misses the point.   The really points lies in the specific action that God is taking in Jesus Christ, meaning that a more faithful reading of the text would be something like: “For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son . . .”  And there is the confrontation, or the what Jesus will call the judgment, the crisis.  God’s love for the whole of the world, for the entire cosmos, comes in the form of Christ crucified, of Christ lifted up upon the cross just as the serpent was lifted up in the desert. God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s healing, this will come to Nicodemus and to us in a such a way that our own darkness will invariably be confronted. There will be no way into this mercy, into this love, that does not go through our own darkness and fear, our own stubbornness and  hard-heartenedness. In the words of the late David Foster Wallace, who harkens back to another passage of John’s Gospel, “the truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you.” And this is the judgment, the crisis of which Jesus speaks,  the two paths that diverge in front of us.  One is dark and suffocating, full of self-deception, full of our own efforts to justify and rationalize away our own sin and darkness.  This is the place of condemnation in which we would rather sit in the darkness of denial, protecting ourselves against the dangers of confessing just how vulnerable, just how deeply insecure and prideful we actually are. 
But that, that is not this place, and that is not where the Holy Spirit has left you.  For you have been drawn, drawn in that darkness and sin that we share with all humanity, yes, you have been drawn into the light of Christ’s love that emanates from the cross.  You have been taken up into the light so that human sin may be confessed and forgiven and that your darkness may no longer hold and define you. All the petty resentments, all the mistrust, all the gossip, backstabbing and bullying, no matter if you are victim or perpetrator, none of these things hold you now.  You are not your sin and your failings, rather you are a beloved child of God, you are the recipient of a love so very intent that it takes the form of Christ crucified.  You need no longer pretend and justify, as though these were the only things left.  Instead, you are free to look up this cross, look upon the Son of Man who has been lifted up and to know that, in him, you have sure knowledge of God’s mercy, of God’s forgiveness.  Lay down your burdens; you are forgiven, you are free, freed to live more deeply into your humanity and love and care for the humanity of others; all of this done in and through the light of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.  

Third Sunday in Lent

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

Welcome to this, to the end.  Probably not what you thought you were coming to do this morning, to welcome some sort of ending to a story we scarcely realized was even underway.  So, you are right to ask, what ending, what rolling of the credits, could your pastor possibly be discussing?  In the life of the church, after all, we are right in the middle of Lent, and its conclusion in the blessed three days still feels a long way off.  Also, as the unreliability of March reminds us, with its 60 degree days and then fits of heavy snow, winter has not yet given way to spring’s glorious bloom.  No, it feels more accurate to say that we feel stuck in the middle, inert and motionless as life continues to pile up and block out any wider perspective that might help us get a hold on the present.  As we carry on, doing whatever it takes to just put one foot in front of the other, it does not feel like any end is in sight, any end to the work that zaps time and energy, or an end the cynicism and fear that we have long since put into practice to guard against disappointment.  So what end, then could possibly be here described?
The ending that we have reached, led so faithfully by the Apostle Paul, is the ending of all our religious efforts to find and manage God, which also means all our efforts to find out “who we are” on our own terms.  Yes, we have been brought to the conclusion, the final act, of our belief that we possess some knowledge, some capacity, some spark of divine intuition that will make us complete people if only we find and nurture it.  And there is a parallel end running right alongside this, the end of believing that these efforts will throw wide heaven’s door and garner us the faithful, loving God for whom we so desperately yearn.  And I know this sounds like bad news.  For we, like all who have lived before and all who will come after, don’t want this to be the case.  We want, as it were, to have all that we need right here inside our own beating hearts and expanding lungs.  And the reason we want this is primordial and mysterious.  It is what we call sin, but it works itself out in any number of totally complicated and often diametrically opposed ways.  It comes to us in the fear that we have not done enough to earn God’s love and thus must doubt the gift of forgiveness we have received in Christ.  It comes us in the pride that says we do not need God’s forgiveness and can manage our own affairs, thank you very much. It comes in those moments when we shrug off any weighty question, questions about what it is to live, to die, to love, yes, when we toss all this aside for the flimsy security of the present.   Yes, in comes in the anxiety and the pain that threatens us with the notion that our lives are of no meaning, no real value.  No matter the manner in which sin comes to us, though, it comes with one expressed goal: to keep us alone, alone to do battle with our struggles, with our doubts, with our fears.  It wishes to keep us alone in our quest for God, for meaning, forcing us to rely only on ourselves in whatever struggles we might face. 
But this is the ending to which you have been brought: the end of your aloneness, the end of having to depend only on yourselves for all that you need.  It the end of that wisdom that says we can enter into the glory of the Father on our own terms, by our own means and with our own strength.  For hear again the words of the Apostle: “for since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” In these words you are given the strength and the power to take up this end in earnest, to leave behind the frustration and the pain, the thwarted efforts of finding God apart from the cross of Christ.  For what Paul is doing here is putting all these things to an end.  The message is clear: the ways that we try and find God, find ourselves, apart from the cross and its foolishness, these efforts will never amount to anything. No matter how wise we believe ourselves to be, how correct in our world-views, how entirely right in our politics, or in our intellects, our ethnic identities  denominational affiliations, or  economic standings, none of these will render God’s mercy to us. It matter not at all that we and the world consider these things wise.  For, as St. Paul writes, it is this very urge for wisdom and domination that put the Son of God to death.  And so we have come to this end.  For there is no longer any ultimate value to be found in these things. 
But not just the end, but also a new beginning, the beginning of what St. Paul, with no little amount of joy, calls the foolishness of the cross. But it is God’s foolishness, and that is where the real fun begins.  For what humans cannot  begin to glimpse even in our wisdom or in our intelligence, God has already accomplished, already worked on our behalf.   The cross upon which human sin is judged and condemned, yes, that same cross is now the place where is God is irrevocably and forever present.  And present not as some confusing and powerful force that must be manipulated into forgiveness, that must be ceaselessly captured, but present offering nothing but forgiveness, nothing but mercy, nothing but eternal peace between the Father and us wayward sinners.  And make no mistake, dear people, this will strike some as foolish.  The peace and mercy that Christ gives you will not be easily explained to a world that stubbornly believes its own wisdom is enough to capture the heart of God.  For it will be regarded as foolish that God would chose to work salvation among humans in this way, foolish that God would rather suffer  our sins that live without us.  And no doubt, to us humans who believe so strongly in just punishments and just rewards, to us humans who think ourselves the measure of all things, who wish to see our enemies fail and not be forgiven,  this is foolishness. But when the Holy Spirit brings us past our own moral seriousness, our own need to control, we glimpse something that is infinitely precious and utterly heart-breakingly.  For the foolishness of God is really a way of talking about God’s utter and absolute love for you.  Yes, at the cross, God has refused to let our stubbornness and sin have the final word and instead has conquered these things so as to never be without you.  Yes, this is the foolishness: that God, the one who dwells in infinite splendor, in goodness without end, this God cares for you with such determination.   It is foolish that this world’s destiny will not be determined by human strength and conflict, but rather by the love that called the creation into being. Yes, according to the wisdom of the world, it is foolishness to regard our neighbors as those to whom we are joined in bonds of communal love and not competitors for the same piece of the pie. But this is the foolishness that has claimed you in the waters of baptism.  So live in this foolishness, revel in it, drink deeply of it.  For this foolishness will continue to transform you, continue to give you life and propel you more deeply into its mystery and towards your neighbor in love.  For we are not just at the end, but also at the beginning.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 8:31-38
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

A dear friend of mine from seminary, the great Pete Speiser, once emailed me with a form of this question: “is there anything more terrifying than standing beneath the cross and confessing that this is my God?”  And why terror you might ask? Perhaps you think this question to be evidence that going to seminary will make you both a bit melodramatic and more than a bit neurotic.  But I am convinced that this question is the question for the Christian faith, and how we answer it, or avoid it, reveals everything about who we are and who God is. So what is it about this God enfleshed, this God who will go to Jerusalem and then past its city walls to the mount of execution, that should inspire a thing like terror?  I mean, as Christians, isn’t the point of this whole thing not terror, but something a touch more life affirming? No doubt, this notion of terror could very easily be protested or ignored, as we chose to dwell on happier things, but to try and find these happy things apart from the cross would be to miss entirely the point of the Christian story. 
And rest assured that being led to the foot of the cross and finding God there has never been an easy task for the church, not since its beginning.  Indeed, that God might have to go the way of the cross was resisted even before it happened.  Look again at the gospel reading, for we are at a turning point in Mark’s telling of the story.  Up to this point, you see, Jesus has tried to keep his identity under wraps.  When the unclean spirits he exercises know his name, know who he is, he does not permit them to speak.  And while it is a little more complex than this, the motivation behind all this secrecy has everything to do with Jesus’ looming fate, indeed with the cross.  So when Peter, just a few verses before our reading, by the power of the Holy Spirit, confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the secret is essentially out in the open.  And in response to this confession, Jesus himself begins to speak openly, speak plainly about what is going to happen to him and what that means for those who wish to follow him.  How do the disciples respond to this proclamation, all this messy stuff about conflict with power, about suffering, yes about death? Well, in a word, they are terrified.  But the terror goes deeper than the gruesome picture that Jesus is painting.  As we have noted throughout our reading of Mark, what Jesus describes simply does not square with what the disciples believed the Messiah would do, would be.  Jesus is supposed to defeat the powerful collusion between Jerusalem and Rome, not suffer by it, and though it is Peter alone who voices his concern over this rather drastic turn of events, it is my hunch that the rest of the disciples are probably in agreement with him, thankful that someone had the courage to stand up to this project that is increasingly headed in the wrong direction.  To Peter’s attempted correction, however, the stakes simply get raised even higher.  This cross, Jesus says, now no longer just to the disciples but to the crowds as well, this cross is not just mine, but this is for you, as well.  Gulp.  Is there, then, an appropriate response other than terror?
Which, of course, throws the question right back at us.  We are not, after all, first century Hebrews expecting the Messiah to overturn a government or two.  What, then, might be the substance of our terror?  Again, though time and circumstance might be much different indeed, we are no less committed to squeezing Jesus into our own expectations, into our boxes than were our ancestors in faith.  For what Jesus is here rejecting is the disciples’ belief that they can come to him, that they can follow him, that they can indeed look at him and say “this is my God” in a way that will not upset their preconceived notions of who God is.  Yes, what the disciples must undergo and what they will come to understand only after Christ is raised from the dead  is that this confession of the Christ, this cannot be accommodated by their preconceived notions of themselves and of God.  This cross cannot ever mean the continuation of human efforts to find and impress God on our own; the cross, is in fact, the end of such programs, the end of such strivings.  And this perhaps is the terror.  That the very place God wishes to reveal himself is in fact the last place we would look.   Which explains, of course, why Jesus says that the cross must be taken up if true life is to be glimpsed.  For true life, the life that Christ alone imparts, the life that is the Father’s very heart, this can never be accomplished by human wit, understanding or wisdom, these things that we hold so dear about ourselves.  This the disciples learned and this we undergo. True life is gained through the end of our efforts to earn God’s love, as our own efforts to maintain ourselves are constantly being frustrated by God.  And this is what is so terrifying to us.  For we want desperately for this not to be the case, for God’s love to come to us in a way that does not cost us, cost God, so much.   But this cannot be, the human situation being too full of greed, too full of fear for it to be accomplished any other way.  God does not wish to be found apart from the cross of Christ, and it is only there, only at the base of Golgatha, that we are finally brought into true life.    The terror then is this: we stand judged and forgiven in the same divine action, in the same divine breathe.  As the Son is lifted up, as he suffers and then dies, we see our whole cosmic situation.  We see both our sin and our futility, and God’s anger against them.  We see that so often that which we think is right and true, that which we value and hold so dearly, that these things do not give us peace, do not give us security, for they will never lead us to Christ and him crucified. 
But that is not all that is seen. This thing, this cross, that appears to us as terrible is actually the source of life, joy and eternal peace.  For in this same action, in this resolute Christ who will go to the cross, literally come both hell and high waters, we see God steely in divine resolve to regain the creation.  We see a God whose love is so determined that this God will take on our sin, take it onto his body and into the eternal heart of God, yes a God who take that sin as his own.  And as the Christ doe this, as he is put to death for our trespasses, know that he has done all this for you.  Not that you may wallow in a guilty piety, but that you may know there is nothing that can now ever separate you from this God’s love.  That you may now have the power, given by the Holy Spirit, to lay down your fears, to lay down your burdens, to lay down, yes, even the things you think are God-pleasing, that all these may be laid down at the foot of the cross.  For it is, here, atop Golgatha, that terror gives way to peace, that fear gives way to courage, that sorrow gives way to joy.  Here atop Golgatha, this is where your God is found  and your neighbor regained in the bounds of communal love. Not in wealth, knowledge, piety, status, power or control, but in the broken body of a first century Jewish man who bore God in the flesh.  Yes there is terror here, but it is the terror of being so deeply loved and so entirely freed.  It is the freedom of true life.  Come, then, to this cross and know that Christ has lost all so that he might gain you forever.  After all, there is nothing more terrifying than true love.  In Jesus’ name, amen.