Friday, March 21, 2008

Sermon: Good Friday

21 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

When God created the universe, He gave us everything. And when our first parents sinned, we lost everything. We lost our perfect existence, our eternal health, our unchallenged position of dominion over the world. Worst of all, we lost the communion we had with our Creator.

And when we lose something, often the way to find it again is to retrace our steps. Sometimes we must run through everything we have done, every place we have been, back through time, until we recover that which we lost.

The problem for us poor, miserable sinners is that we are so lost, no matter how often we revisit our history, we can’t go back to Eden. No matter how much we may regret our sins, we cannot undo them. No matter how much we resist and fight against death, even the most heroic medical care and technology are but delaying actions against the inevitable.

We not only need to retrace our steps, we need someone to retrace those steps for us. Like a father fixing his child’s broken toy, we need our Father to fix our broken creation.

It was through an act of rebellion of the few involving the eating of a fruit of creation that the many became lost. And on Maundy Thursday, that step was retraced, as eating and drinking the fruits of creation through an act of obedience by one that the many became rescued. The forbidden fruit became the forgiving fruit. The grain produced with labor as a result of our sin becomes a bread of grace that takes away our sin. Maundy Thursday, the first of these three holy days, begins the great unraveling of the mess we have made of creation.

On this, the second of the three holy days, a sad Friday we are so audacious as to call “Good,” our Lord once more retraces our steps of rebellion and punishment for sin in order to obediently redeem us from sin.

Our original sin involved a tree and a serpent, and led to death. However, on this day, the tree is not an enticement to sin, but rather the holy altar upon which sin is atoned for. On this day, the serpent isn’t the victor, but rather he is the unholy victim, conquered by the Holy Victim. The tree the serpent had used to wound man, in fact, a tree upon which the Son of Man was wounded, has become the cudgel with which the dragon has been pounded, his bloody head crushed by the One who promised to smash it with His bloody foot. And though the first time, the tree, the serpent, and the man conspired to bring death in the world, on this day, this Good Friday, the Man dies on the tree to conquer and overcome death by the tree, mortally wounding the serpent, and bringing life to mortal men who had been led to death by the serpent in the first place.

The steps have been retraced. The lost have been found. The loving Father has repaired the damage of His children.

This is what Good Friday is all about. This is why the Christian faith makes no sense to the world. For in order to retrace one’s steps, one must go backwards, swim against the stream, do things in a less than logical order. God doesn’t do what we expect. He doesn’t behave the way our sinful nature would predict. Instead, He acts out of divine, selfless, unpredictable love. This is the Christian life! Good Friday reveals the supreme act of love, the act of One who would die for His “friends.” And what’s more, He would die for us “while we were yet sinners!” And having received this re-creation, this redemption, having watched our doting Father repair the creation we had wrecked by our rebellion, disobedience, and folly – we can say with St. Paul “the love of Christ compels us.”

We are under compulsion, dear brothers and sisters. We are, as St. Paul calls himself, “slaves of Christ.” We formerly lost and condemned people have been redeemed, repaired, restored, and reborn. We have been found!

“Now, all things are of God,” as the apostle proclaims, “who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself… For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

This is the very story and the very meaning of Good Friday. The steps have been retraced. And God is the one retracing those steps on our behalf. As a result, there is the “happy exchange” in which the sinner becomes the saint, the victim becomes the victor, the lost becomes found, the dead become alive, and the condemned become the redeemed.

This is what the holy prophet Isaiah proclaims as well, using the word “Servant” that is, a lowly slave, in the same sentence as words like “exalted” and “extolled.” This is how it is that the Man of Sorrows brings about the happiness of the universe, and the One who is “despised and rejected by men” becomes the One who reconciles men to the God they “despised and rejected.” This is how it is that the violence done to Him, the “stricken, smitten, and afflicted,” the one wounded and bruised and chastised, the One led to the slaughter – becomes the bearer of “our peace.” It is He who will “justify many.” In the aftermath of this prophesied Friday, the Lord Himself uses words like “prosper,” “satisfied,” and “pleasure.” For listen to the words of the prophet in light of this Good Friday: “Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

The Lord has retraced our painful steps as He trod the via dolorosa to the cross. The Lord has retraced our painful steps as he suffered the results of our iniquity in His passion, bearing the stripes that were given for our healing. The Lord has retraced our painful steps as he “poured out His soul unto death” on the Place of a Skull, bearing our sins, in fact, being sin for us, “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The steps were also retraced as blood and water issued from his riven side. For blood and water issues when sinful men are born, as our mothers suffer Eden’s curse of pain in childbearing. Instead of a birth, this blood and water from the side of our Blessed Lord is at His death. Blood is what came out of righteous Abel as he lay dying at the hand of His angry brother. Water became the instrument of death of everyone in the world, except for eight righteous people, at the hands of a righteously angry God. But on this Good Friday, this blood and water from the body of Christ are physical manifestations of death. And by this death, we have life. For in baptismal water, we partake our Lord’s death so that we might have life. In the blood of the New Testament, we proclaim the Lord’s death for our redemption as we drink this blood and eat the Body of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The water and the blood have become manifestations of life.

Again, the steps have been retraced. Death has been undone and converted to life. The lost have been found. The broken have been restored.

Finally, our Blessed Lord is laid in a tomb, the most unnatural place in all of creation. The tomb is a location of death, of decay, of sadness. But we can see where this great divine retracing of steps is headed.

For just as the cross, a symbol of pain and death, is today a symbol of renewal and life, the tomb will likewise be transformed after our Lord spends His Sabbath rest in victory over the serpent, having not only retraced our steps, but having stepped upon the head of the devil, finding the lost, and drawing life out of death.

In our sinfulness, we lost everything. We lost our perfect existence, our eternal health, our unchallenged position of dominion over the world. Worst of all, we lost the communion we had with our Creator. And yet, Good Friday saw all of that undone. In Jesus Christ, creation once more has a perfect Man, an eternal Man, One with an unchallenged position of dominion over all things. And through that one Man, we again have communion with our Creator.

The steps have been retraced. The lost have been found. The loving Father has repaired the damage of His children. And as good as this day is, the best is yet to come. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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