Sunday, August 29, 2021

Roomy -- a sermon God's many mansions

Rev. Teri Peterson

Gourock St. John’s


John 14.1-10 New Revised Standard Version

29 August 2021, Sunday School Revisited 14

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Some of you may know that two new cats came to live in the manse recently. For the past two weeks, it has been a slow process of getting them settled in. We started out with several days spent in my bedroom — anytime I was home, I was in there with them, and the rest of the time they stayed in by themselves, door firmly shut. Then they were allowed out to explore the hallway and stairs to the upper floor…but all the doors to rooms were closed, so they couldn’t get into mischief. After a week, I took them one at a time to the sitting room for an afternoon, then to the study and kitchen for an afternoon — both of those days they were so exhausted that they slept about 9 hours straight overnight! Then we had a little time exploring just the ground floor, and then just the upstairs again, and finally a day when the gate was opened and they could go anywhere in the house, as long as I followed them around. And now they are able to roam freely and unsupervised around the whole house — except the rooms that are always closed for heat-saving purposes!

It’s a big house, so there’s plenty of room for them to run, have adventures, sprawl out on the floor for an impromptu nap, or hide behind the books on the shelf. They have plenty of toys in basically every room, and yet they have stolen cherry tomatoes off the counter, balanced precariously on the bannister on the top floor landing, and hidden under the duvet. They are not kittens, but they’re still fairly small creatures, so this three story house must feel like…well…like their mama’s house has many mansions.

I promise I’m not being sacrilegious, or comparing myself to God and God’s house. Just trying to give a different perspective on a text that many of us are very familiar with — whether from Sunday school and holiday clubs or from funerals. Every day there’s some new place in the house for the cats to discover…and every day there’s something new within God’s house for us to discover. 

The thing that makes all that exploration of the house possible is the security of our relationships within it. Before they were out wandering the house, the cats had to get to know and trust me. Each time we went to a new room they knew it was okay because I took them there, and they could always come back to my lap. The same is true within God’s house — especially since, honestly, most of the time scripture uses the word “house” it’s actually about a relationship, a family, not a physical building! Jesus says there are many places to dwell in God…just as he and the Father dwell in each other, and just as he tells us to abide in him as he abides in us. To live in God’s house is to trust the relationship we have with God — a close relationship in which we live our lives together, meaning that we share our lives with God and God shares God’s life with us. When Jesus says he is the way to a relationship with God, this is why — because in Christ, God shared life with us and brought us into the family. 

The disciples didn’t really know what was going on when Jesus talked this way. Then, as now, people just can’t really fathom the idea that God’s house, God’s family, is roomy enough for everyone. We’ve usually got quite a list of people we just frankly don’t have time for, but God has all the time in the world…for each of us, and for each of them. That’s what it means to have roominess in God’s “house”, God’s family — the relationship is spacious, there’s room to walk around, to learn and grow and change, to ask questions and to explore and to know we can come back to the safety of resting in God’s had. Because God gave Godself to us, and we give ourselves to God. That’s how committed relationships work.

The disciples, though…they thought they had to understand in order to commit. They thought they had to have the right words, the right map to follow, before they’d be allowed in. They were so afraid of being left alone, so afraid of the future Jesus was trying to prepare them for, that they couldn’t see what was right in front of them. 

In reading their story from the outside, we can see very clearly what they could not when they were in the midst of those last days of Jesus’ earthly life — that fear obscures vision. When all they could think about is how to save themselves and the way of life they had come to love from certain death and destruction…when all we can think about is how to save ourselves and the way of life we have come to love…it’s like having blinders on. We see so narrowly, and so dimly, that the expansive Way of Truth and Life becomes impossible. We miss out on relationship because we’re too afraid to allow the fullness of God to meet our whole selves. So we reduce Jesus to a tool that buys our salvation but locks the gate to others so that we can feel safe.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby once said that “Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human. Uniquely in all of human history, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one who as living love liberates holy courage.” Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human — it locks us up and blocks us from full relationship with God and with others, rather than stopping “them” who we wanted to be kept out…and Jesus lives God’s love so fully that it sets us all free to be courageous, to live this life with God rather than simply waiting for the next.

Courage is actually exactly where Jesus began this teaching: do not let your hearts be troubled. We so often read this at troubling times that I think we have decided to live with only the shallowest meaning of “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Yes, it certainly can be a reminder that Jesus gives us peace beyond all understanding. But deeper down, it’s an instruction to take heart, to not allow the troubles of the world to narrow our vision and weaken our courage to do good and stand up for what is right.

Even when we are afraid.

Even when it looks like the shadows are overtaking the light.

Even when the world is threatening.

Even when it feels like we are drowning in grief.

Even when the problems are bigger than we can solve and all we can see are obstacles.

Even when it’s our lives, or the life of our beloved institutions, at stake.

In fact especially at those times, take heart, and act like the members of Christ’s family that we are. Do not let fear obscure our vision of the roominess of God’s house or tempt us to use Jesus to lock the doors behind us so that we can live in ignorant or apathetic comfort. There’s space to spare, and God has time for refugees, and people who are homeless or hungry, and people who look and sound different, and people who need extra support, and people who work for peace and those who are trying to change their ways, and people who can’t see past the dark cloud of despair, and people suffering from climate change, and people struggling with addictions, and and and…so we, who are made in God’s image and grafted into God’s family tree, had better have time and space for them too. Because it’s when we act like Jesus that we will most likely see him. When we choose, like Philip and Thomas, to focus on ourselves and our fears of the future, we’ll miss God’s presence literally in our midst. 

The house is roomy, and Christ has set us free to live life to the full within it — all of us. Take heart.

May it be so. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Opposite Blessings -- a sermon on Jacob before and after the ladder...

Rev. Teri Peterson

Gourock St. John’s

Opposite Blessings

Genesis 27-28 (NRSV)

22 August 2021, Sunday School Revisited 13

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savoury food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.’ 

Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savoury food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.

So he went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am; who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’ But Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’ He answered, ‘Because the Lord your God granted me success.’ Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ He did not recognise him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.  He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ He answered, ‘I am.’ Then he said, ‘Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.’ So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’ So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said,

‘Ah, the smell of my son

   is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. 

May God give you of the dew of heaven,

   and of the fatness of the earth,

   and plenty of grain and wine. 

Let peoples serve you,

   and nations bow down to you.

Be lord over your brothers,

   and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.

Cursed be everyone who curses you,

   and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

I used to think that my brother and I were pretty bad as far as fighting and sibling rivalry goes. When we were younger we broke things, hurt each other, and shouted ourselves hoarse. I don’t know how our parents put up with us honestly. 

And then I read the Bible, and the things that siblings get up to, even just in the book of Genesis, puts our petty squabbles to shame. 

Jacob and Esau are a good example. They’re twins, and even in the womb they were already wrestling. While she was pregnant, their mother Rebekah suffered a lot from their constant movement, and when she prayed about it, she received a vision from God to say that she was giving birth to two nations…and that the younger would take precedence over the elder. Now of course they’re twins, so there’s not much room for younger and older, especially since Jacob was born quite literally on the heels of Esau — it says that he was holding on to Esau’s heel with his hand!

From that moment onward, they were rivals in every way. One was their father’s favourite, and one their mother’s favourite. One was skilled in hunting, the other in husbandry. On and on the list goes of how they were polar opposites of each other. And of course there’s the story where we learned that Jacob was a typical Scot as well — he was able to cook a good hearty meal, and his lentil soup was so good that when Esau came in from hunting and was so hungry, he agreed to sell his birthright, his inheritance, to his brother for a bowl of it! A good cook and canny too! 

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a twist to the story of their father was preparing for his last days, and thinking about his legacy, wanting to give his eldest son a blessing.

Remember Rebekah had been told by God that “the elder will serve the younger.” She simply did, in her mind, what she had to do to ensure that God’s word came true. So she and Jacob worked out a plan to dress Jacob in Esau’s clothes, to cover him in goat hair, and to take in Rebekah’s best cooking. After all, Isaac’s eyesight had failed, and he wasn’t mentally as sharp as he’d once been either, so the plan that Rebekah and Jacob concocted paid off. They were able to manipulate and scheme their way into Jacob getting his father’s blessing.

Esau was murderously angry, of course, which is why Jacob fled towards Haran — the homeland of his grandfather Abraham, running away with only what he could carry. No servants, no livestock, no extra baggage allowance, just what he was wearing and a bag on his back as he headed into the wilderness.

When he laid down that night, exhausted from running, having left his mother with his dying father and his angry brother, the only thing he had to hand was a stone. We always think he used it as a pillow but it’s more likely to have been a large stone that he laid down next to, his back to it, protecting his head and back and hiding him from at least one angle as long as he didn’t stick his legs out. The wilderness is a dangerous place, especially at night, that’s the best he could hope for in terms of protection. 

There, in the middle of nowhere, under the stars, his back to a stone, exhausted and sad, Jacob slept. 

There’s nothing more vulnerable than a person who is mentally and physically exhausted, exposed to the elements, asleep. 

And that is when God appeared.

Not when Jacob was controlling the situation and scripting the conversation, but when he was asleep, outside, far from home, alone.

There he saw the connection between earth and heaven, and how easy it is to move between them for those messengers doing God’s work. He understood that even there, in the wilderness, he was in the house of God, literally sleeping at the gates of heaven…and he had no idea. 

Now at this point I could go on for quite some time about the fact that we, like Jacob, so often have absolutely no idea that God is in this place. Right here and now, wherever we find ourselves, is the gate of heaven. God has not left a single square millimetre of the universe without divine presence, it’s just that we choose not to see God all around us, and we choose to treat the creation as if it is not God’s house, but our own to abuse as we wish. Rather than being vulnerable and open to receiving the truth of the interconnectedness of heaven and earth, we have chosen to stay closed in order to manipulate and overpower creation for our own purposes, as if that will have no consequences for us or others or for the kingdom of God.

And that is all true.

But what I most want to notice with you today is slightly different. Related, in a way, but different.

Take a look at the blessing that Jacob and Rebekah worked so hard to get from Isaac. It is about two main things: material prosperity first (the fatness of the earth, plenty of wine), and power second (let peoples serve you, be lord over your brothers). 

Those are things that many of us strive for. To have more than enough to satisfy our desires, and to have a higher status than other people. To work our way up the ladder, socially and economically, to be better off than our parents were — isn’t that what we’re culturally conditioned to work for our whole lives, and what our western economies require of us? 

Now take a look at the blessing God gives to Jacob while he is sleeping at the gate of God’s house. God says “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” and promises that this land will be full of his descendants, people who will be a blessing to others.

God blessed him with the knowledge of God’s constant presence everywhere, not just in holy places, and with the gift of being a blessing to others, to all the families of the world.

It’s the opposite of the blessing he’d manipulated his father for, which was about being served while God’s blessing is about being a blessing.

One is what we often think of as blessing, we work for it or we say we’re “so blessed” when we have prosperity and power. And the other is what God thinks of as a blessing: to know God’s presence and share it with others, to spread the news that “surely the Lord is in this place” and to work for a world where all can experience God’s goodness here and now.

In other words, as Jesus put it, to receive a blessing is not to be served, but to serve. To love as we have been loved. To represent God’s image in the world.

This doesn’t only apply to us as individuals, though it is the opposite of the way we use the word “blessed” culturally. It also applies to the church as a whole. A blessed church is not a church that has a lot of people and a lot of money and a high profile in its town or nation or the world. A blessed church is a church that gives itself away as a blessing to others. A blessed church isn’t a church with a beautiful building, a blessed church is a church that knows the people are the church, wherever we are. A blessed church isn’t a church that’s packed to the rafters, standing room only, a blessed church is a church that is reflecting the image of God outside the sanctuary walls, loving its neighbours in every neighbourhood where the church lives. A blessed church isn’t one that controls or manipulates to get what it wants, a blessed church is one that recognises God’s presence everywhere and stands up to say “Surely the Lord is in this place” — in the high street and in the train station and in the dark alleyways and in the deprived empty town centre and in the hospital and in the funeral parlour and in the drugs den and in the beautiful park and in the school and in the eyesore of a building and in the pub and in the fancy restaurant and in the community garden and in the close no one is caring for and in the care home and in the library and in the council offices and in the chippy and in the big fancy yachts and everywhere else. 

The blessing we’ve been pursuing so hard for ourselves is actually no blessing at all, and while we’re putting all our energy into that, we can’t see what’s right in front of us. Which means a blessed church has to be one that is full of people who are willing to pause, to let our guard down, to be vulnerable, to stop working so hard for our own institutional survival and the desires of those already inside the walls, and instead make space for God to speak…even if it’s to give us a blessing we aren’t sure we actually want. Because that’s what comes when one sleeps at the gates of heaven.

When we are vulnerable enough to recognise that the Lord is in this place, and that the Lord is calling us to be a blessing to others, then what will we do? How will we give ourselves away to share the good news, to spread the blessing far and wide, to participate in the work that all those messengers of God are doing when they go to and fro between heaven and earth?

When we answer that, we’ll find ourselves in God’s house, wherever we are.

May it be so. Amen.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Mirror -- a sermon on the crucifixion

Rev. Teri Peterson

Gourock St. John’s


Mark 15.16-47 New Revised Standard Version

8 August 2021, Sunday School Revisited 11

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

This is one of those stories that many of us know, and yet if we were pressed to talk about it we may find that we have only the bare basics of it, or that we resort to simply saying “Jesus died for our sins” — which Mark’s gospel doesn’t say explicitly, he simply tells the story and we have come to understand its meaning over the years. It’s one of the central moments of the Christian faith — some might say the moment. There is often a friendly disagreement between those who see Good Friday’s crucifixion as the most important part of the easter story, and those who see Sunday’s resurrection as the most important part. Without death, there can be no resurrection, of course — something we who worry about the loss of certain traditions or institutions should remember. But then again, without resurrection, this is just another execution in an empire that famously crucified hundreds of thousands of people. 

Crucifixion was meant to be humiliating torture, the most painful way to execute those who dared to oppose the empire. It was supposed to be a spectacle, and also to be so shameful that those who were crucified would essentially be erased from daily conversation. Friends and family wouldn’t mention them, for fear someone might connect them to the person who had been caught rebelling against Rome and turn them in too. Often bodies were left to the elements and the animals, rather than buried properly. It was intentionally as terrible as anyone could dream up. And it happened nearly every day in the Roman Empire, for about 500 years.

As an aside: you would think that if it was an effective deterrent, they wouldn’t have to do it quite so much. But we know how easily we humans fall into the trap of continuing to do things that don’t work, even harmful things, simply because it’s what we’ve always done. The death penalty and other forms of physical punishment and, indeed, many punishments in general, are no different — they don’t work but we want to believe they do. 

Which is why it matters that we tell this story, in all its brutality and horror. 

Not because we need or want to glorify gore, or torture, or pain. There’s plenty of that to go around in other places, other stories.

But because we do need to see the truth of what humanity can do, and the truth that it doesn’t work. We want to believe that inflicting pain on others will make us feel better, but it doesn’t. We want to believe that making an example of someone will deter others from working for change, but it doesn’t. We want to believe that punishment works, but it doesn’t. Jesus, on the cross, holds up a mirror to us as human beings and asks if this was really what we believed?

Think of the people who saw him there and looked square into that mirror.

The soldiers who pulled things out of the dress-up box and played out their fantasies of being more powerful than the monarch…as they were beating him and spitting on him, they inadvertently spoke truth by calling him the King of the Jews. In that moment they revealed themselves, who they really were and what really mattered to them, and it was to hold the power of violence in their hands, to put others below them and climb to the top of the heap by any means possible including even throwing dice to divvy up his last possessions. It’s not a flattering picture in their mirror. But could they see it?

Along with passers-by, the others who were crucified beside Jesus also taunted him, calling names and mocking his power to save. Even in the midst of their own agony, even as they bore the same punishment, they still needed to be better than the man next to them. They were likely there for committing acts of treason or violence against the empire, while Jesus was there for speaking in ways that undermined the empire’s power with God’s love…and yet when they looked into the mirror-image of the cross next to them, what they saw was one more chance to prove they were more manly than the next guy.

The women, looking on from a distance…they’d been with him from the beginning, following him through Galilee and Judea and to Jerusalem. They had been providing for him and his followers, making space, making food, sharing their resources, learning at his feet and going out with his good news. They were the only friends who didn’t run away and hide, and even they had to watch from a distance. But they saw every writhe and heard every cry, and at the last they saw the tomb and the stone’s heaviness shuddering into place. They saw their friend, their teacher, their brother, their son…and they saw an end. The end of everything. In that moment it may have felt like their lives were over too.

And the centurion. Mark says he stood facing Jesus, and when he saw everything, the way others treated him, the way Jesus responded, his final breath, he saw truth shining through all the pain and sorrow and horror: truly, this man was God’s Son. Truly.  

We couldn’t see it in the thousands of other bodies, made in the image of God, on crosses. But this one was God’s flesh and bone on the cross, God’s blood pouring out, God’s breath that stopped, and we are forced to confront just what cruelty we have chosen. We could not deal with the truth of what God-with-us said and did, the challenge he posed to the way things have always been, and so we killed him instead. And if the world were being honest, we would do it again.

On the cross, Jesus reflected that truth back to us in a way we cannot ignore, though we have tried to look away, or pretended that when we continue on the wrong path it was okay because those people deserved it — forgetting what he said about “whenever you have done it to them, you did it to me.” The mirror shows uncomfortable truths, and will continue to show them to us every time we read the story and take it to heart, for we cannot stand at the foot of the cross and walk away unchanged. Or rather, we should not, though we often resist the transformation the crucifixion calls for.

When Jesus breathed his last, anguished cry, the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom. The way that grieving people were to tear their clothes and put ashes on their heads, even the holy place grieved. And yet that tearing — from top to bottom, though it was taller than any human being could tear — also opened something. Sometimes we talk about grief as being broken-hearted, broken open, falling to pieces. Perhaps that’s what happened in the Temple that day, too. The curtain separating the holy place where God lived from the rest of the world and all its messiness was torn, from top to bottom. The word “torn” is a word Mark only uses one other time in his whole gospel — to describe the heavens opening at Jesus’ baptism and the Holy Spirit descending on him. The heavens were torn open and the Spirit flew…and the curtain was torn and holiness was free, unconstrained. God had experienced the depths of human suffering, unmedicated. Mental and emotional and spiritual anguish, betrayal and desertion by all his friends, bullying and taunting and mocking of his very identity and passion and love, physical brutality and torture, the loss of a child…there is nothing in this world that we can go through that God hasn’t already experienced. And the separation between God and us has been torn to pieces by grief and love, so we will never walk the dark valley alone — we always have an experienced guide.

God shows us what really does work, and calls us to a new way. Not torture or punishment or cruelty, but tearing down separation barriers and coming together to walk the journey. If God wouldn’t stay separated from us even when we were literally doing the worst we could imagine, why would we insist on separating ourselves from one another?

The curtain was torn from top to bottom, from heaven to earth…and the tomb was open and empty on the third day…and nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from God’s love, revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May it be so. Amen.