Friday, April 3, 2015 Good Friday – Mea Maxima Culpa, and I’m not kidding

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Or as we used to say in the Lutheran church, by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault.

We don’t say those words anymore, my guess is that someone along the way decided that they sounded a little too impassioned, a little too breast-beating, a little too obvious, like one denigrating themselves in desperate search of a compliment, of a pat on the back and a “there, there” or just maybe, the forgiveness of God.

Even the next wording gave us the option of softening the already softened wording. We got “I am in bondage to sin” but no mention of most grievous fault and we also got “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves” as if by grudgingly admitting sin we were doing the same as confessing it.

Do we even feel the most grievous fault anymore? Do we have a sense that we are truly guilty of anything, specifically guilty of anything or are we more comfortable with admitting that we are generally a little guilty of everything? Have we become so used to the grace of God being ours that we have lost sight of what it was that the cross overcame?

Well, mea culpa, mea culpa mea maxima culpa.

I have sinned. And failed. And neglected.

I suppose that it is easier for me to say it sometimes. I stand here and encourage all of you to confess each week, I offer the forgiveness of God and really mean it when I do so I suppose that it is easier for me to confess.

But that doesn’t make it easy. And if it is easier for me than for you than I imagine it must be quite daunting for you to try it, to really examine your week, your month, your life and admit to the things that were errors, admit to the things that were selfish, or weak, or cowardly, or showed forth the hesitancy in trusting in the promises of God. I mean, seriously, I can easily see that we might just retreat to a generalized sense of sin, admitting that we cannot deny it so to speak, rather than indulging in a serious examination.

That’s what we have other people for.

Especially in this world of constantly running video recordings, of misconduct caught on camera at sporting events and in the streets and in the fraternity houses and in our homes. It seems completely unlikely that we will get away with anything nowadays because of the chances that someone is watching.

Like a boss who doesn’t trust his employees, we have one of these in our neighborhood, and watches the security feed on his television in his living room when he is at home, like a jealous boyfriend always trying to “catch” you talking, walking, existing in the company of someone else, we seem to have a culture of “gotcha” these days that certainly exacerbates the problem, after all, when we think someone is watching us, we try all the harder to hide our faults, our own faults, our own most grievous faults.

But it’s a lie to say that the problem is that people are watching. It is a lie to blame the scrutiny for the sin, after all, if nobody was watching we’d still make mistakes, fail, hide.

The truth is we endeavor to deny the sin, to blanket it over and generalize it and laugh it off even while confessing it in the church, even in the words we use, softer, looser each time, each repetition, each new hymnal until it might be easy to just say that we confess that we are not perfect, not going to be perfect, but we’re kinda okay with that because, you know, grace.

Which for the most part is fine. On most days we are not feeling particularly beset by guilt I suppose. We’re just going about our business.

But Jesus was not just going about His business. Jesus was not going to a casual examination of the nature of sin over cucumber sandwiches and tea at the corner salon.

Jesus was going to the cross.

Not as an overreaction, but because He knew how potent was the power of sin over us and even if we’ve managed to soften the rhetorical blow of sin, no matter what we think, the fact that it required the death of the son of God ought to indicate to us what the real power of sin is, how inescapable it is, how it demands of us our death in recompense for our misdeeds.

I don’t know if we consider sin the way Jesus sees it, the way that the Bible views it. We may have come too far as a people to understand its power.

But as we stand amidst the detritus of Palm Sunday’s triumphant celebrations, I can’t help but wonder how it is that we can avoid looking at the detritus, the debris of our sin, the little lies we have to keep track of, the pens, my God the mountain of pens and pencils that go missing from offices all across the country, we could build a suspension bridge out of them; the tears from the pain we have caused others, the shame we ought to feel but somehow trivialize.

Well, standing here in the mess, the debris I can tell you exactly how grateful I am for the sacrifice made on my behalf, how hopelessly, hopelessly grateful I am that for all of my guilt there is a solution for every one of my errors in judgment, missed targets, failed relationships, petty cruelties, lapses and stupid, lazy eccentricities if not downright evil; (pause) there is always one who will cross whatever territory to save me. There is always one who will climb the highest pile of whatever garbage my behavior has spawned in order to talk me off of the ledge.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I wish we didn’t have to be brutal to be honest but sometimes it is the only thing that will remind us that if it took Christ dying on the cross to save us, then we must have needed saving pretty bad and that when we look up at the cross we should hold on tight to whatever grace we have leftover for ourselves and just be thankful.

We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against God and each other in thought word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone, by our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault.

There is nowhere else to turn, nowhere else to look but to Christ. Even the detachment of soldiers, though they do not know it, are searching for what only Christ can give them, they are seeking Jesus to be sure, but they are also seeking the Christ, the anointed lamb of God who has come to deliver them from their sin.

Even them, and the chief priests and the scribes and the whole lot. They and we are seeking to be freed from the sting of our sin and in deepest love, love even for those who crucified them, forgiveness for them as they crucified Him, Jesus goes farther because the need is greater, more serious than we like to admit.

Always, at the end of us, at the very limit of us where we are fraying at the edges, the pain too great, the guilt to damning, Christ is there, looking down from the cross, taking away our pain by making it His own and carrying it away to where we cannot follow.

We may find new pain and new sorrow tomorrow, and the day after, but forever and forever at the very end of us, Christ will meet us and set us free.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

May we learn to try and do the same.


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