Coming to church is different for everyone. You enter the sanctuary of the church of your choosing on a Sunday morning, but you do not all enter the same way, or at least you are not all coming with uniform feelings, desires, fears, and expectations. Some gather into the House of God with longing and hope in their hearts. Perhaps they are hurting. Possibly they have grievous sins which they dare not tell anyone, sins that keep them up at night and also haunt their days. So, they come in desperation for relief outside of their own ability. Others arrive with profound loneliness. Oh, they do not look lonely, they have that smile on their face and greet you with a cheerful “good morning,” but it is all a facade, a carefully crafted and expected image. They put it on for Sunday morning, but deep down they desperately long for someone to really see them, for someone to truly understand who they are and what they are going through. They show up for community and identity. Others come out of obligation and a sense of duty to the traditions they have grown up in. More than a few arrive with a searching heart, hoping to discover some answers to life’s many unanswered questions.
As a result, we gather in church. We sit in our usual spots and go through the usual motions. It is all very intentional, the movement of church. It is a journey of sorts from all the various worries and concerns of our life to this moment here and now. We have joined together in song. We have confessed our sins. We have received the absolution of our Lord. The sacred Scriptures have been read in our hearing and suddenly we feel a fair bit removed from life outside the walls of the church. There is an opportunity for our longings to be met, a moment when time seems to slow and, collectively, we anticipate the Word to be proclaimed to us. Saint Paul famously said, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24). We preach Christ crucified. That is what this moment is about. So, though we may have come to church with a wide variety of longings, fears, and hopes, we all come together to one place and one place alone. We come to Golgotha. We come to the foot of the cross.
Now, this may not be the place we want to go, but Golgotha is the place we must go. It is the only place on earth which holds the promised answer to your longings. It is the hope beyond a sin-bound life. It is the place where light shines in the darkness, where assurance is proclaimed into your hearts. It is to Golgotha we go in our tears and heartache, in our despair and confusion. There we meet God. Although, He is not God in glory, might, and power as the world would have Him and not dressed in splendor and majesty. This is not the image of God we dream of when we close our eyes and offer up our prayers. No, this is God dying at the hands of His own creatures. He is God crucified for you, for your sin, for your failure. This is God in the muck and grime of your life, in the filth and ugliness that haunts every one of you.
And like the women on the way to Golgotha who wept and mourned as our Lord passed by carrying His cross, we are tempted to look up at the cross and weep today. We murmur to ourselves, “How sad that God did such a thing. How terrible that He gave so much for the ungrateful and lowly masses.” We mourn for Jesus. But He says, “Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Golgotha is a testimony of your sinfulness. It is the violence and blood you have earned. There is no hiding from it, not at the foot of the cross, not in the preaching of Christ crucified. It shouts out how the good you want to do, you do not do, and the evil you know you should never do is precisely what you return to, over and again. You should weep for yourselves because if this is what they do to the living, life-giving Son of God, what will they do to you who actually deserve this? “If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Golgotha is the Aramaic word for “the skull.” As the text says, the place where our Lord is crucified is the place of the skull. Now, most people have said the reason it is called this is because the rock was shaped in such a way that it actually resembled a skull. You can no doubt imagine how the shadows of the rock as you approached the little hill outside the walls of Jerusalem might very well give the image of a skull. But there is another tradition which is handed down to us through the Church father Origin who recounts an older Jewish belief where Golgotha was named this way because it was the place where Adam was buried. In other words, the skull in the place of the skull, was the skull of the first man created from the dust of the earth, the man whose sin brought death and suffering to us all. Where our Lord is crucified is over the memory of all our sin, over the bones of our first parent who lost the Garden, who lost the Tree of Life.
This obscure tradition gets to the heart of why we must go to Golgotha, why we must find ourselves at the foot of the cross, why we preach Christ crucified. It is where God meets sin, where He deals not just with the wayward walking of your day-to-day life, not just with you dark secrets and shame, but with all of humanities transgressions. He gets beneath the sins of your birth and goes beyond the sins of tomorrow. It is at Golgotha where He prays for those who murder Him saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” God’s work and our sin collide over the bones of Adam, and it is God’s mercy, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness that win the day.
We are told two thieves are also crucified with Jesus, one on His left and one on His right. Then the people who gather around Him begin to mock Him, to ridicule our dying Lord. “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” Let Him save Himself, they say. But to save Himself is to not be the Christ of God. If Jesus were to save Himself, He would not save them, and it is for them that He dies. To save Himself is to echo the action of Adam. As if this is not bad enough, one of those thieves begins to join in the jeering of the crowds. “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” he says. The bones of Adam cry out through the mouth of this man, one more attempt at self-preservation, one more grasp at temporal glory.
But then we are given a witness to the truth of Golgotha. It does not come from the mourners at the foot of the cross. It does not come on the mouth of the religious leaders. It comes from the lips of the other thief dying beside our Lord. He rebukes the cry of Adam’s bones: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” He gets it. Jesus is innocent. His blood is pure, without spot or stain, a perfect and holy sacrifice. He continues saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Remember me. Is this not what you want? Do we not all desire to be remembered in the Kingdom of our God, to be remembered beyond this age in the eternal Paradise of Jesus?
The blood of the Son of God flows down upon the place of the skull. The blood of atonement covers the sin of Adam and all Adam’s offspring. At Golgotha, the promise of God is sealed for all eternity. Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” So, I say to you, Paradise is yours my friends. For here at Golgotha your sin is washed clean. Here your sinful bones are covered by the love of God.