Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon: Good Friday

10 April 2009 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.

“He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

Love makes people do strange things. And it seems that this human trait reflects the image of God in which we were created. For God cannot be constrained to a body, and yet He is. Sinners cannot look upon the face of God and live, and yet they do. Sins cannot be atoned for by a substitute punishment, and yet they are. God cannot suffer and die, and yet He does.

The divine love not only turns “can’t” into “can,” but goes further and “does.” The divine sacrifice turns death into life. The divine gift turns sinners into saints.

This surprising, no, this shocking work of God is sometimes called an “alien work.” It seems to be outside what we would expect of a righteous God – and yet this is precisely what He does. One would not expect a husband to treat his unfaithful wife like a queen – and yet this is what the Holy Bridegroom does for His fickle and wayward bride. One would not expect an innocent victim of injustice to die for those who hated, betrayed, and condemned him, and then pray for their forgiveness – and yet is what the “Lamb of God pure and holy,” the one “stricken, smitten, and afflicted,” does for you, for me, and yes even for the entire world.

The non-believing world looks upon this time of year with a cross between morbid curiosity and quaint mockery. Those who actively hate the Church often rail against a God that they portray as the ultimate child-abuser – which is odd indeed for people to rail against a God that they claim doesn’t exist.

Some Christians seek attention for themselves by morbid ritual, as every year people around the world allow themselves to be attached to crosses – sometimes even with nails – which draws attention from the Crucified One, the true Lamb led to the slaughter, and places that attention onto themselves. For unlike our Lord Jesus Christ, none of these people will die. It is only a show, with props, and stage direction. None of these people were condemned though innocent. None of these people are the only begotten Son of God who is crushed by the will of God and by whose stripes we are healed.

No indeed. There is no glory in our own crosses. As we pray in the prayer the One who gave up His Spirit on our behalf, taught us: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” In the cross of Christ we glory, and it is only God’s kingdom and His power that redeems us.

We are servants of the King. We are subjects of the Kingdom. We are the recipients of the healing by His stripes. We are the sheep who have gone astray, whose Shepherd gives His life in order to gather us into the flock. We are the benefactors of this “ministry of reconciliation.”

The Prince of Peace died to bring peace, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that reconciles us to God, a peace that removes from us the fear of death, the terror of hell, and the constant threat of bondage to the evil one.

The events of Good Friday are not simply a historical curiosity or a macabre ritual of primitive people locked into the prison of religion. No indeed. Good Friday impacts every moment of our lives, for our Crucified Lord has set us free, has paid our penalty, and redeemed us from the punishment we deserve. The ramifications are life-changing and earth-shattering.

And what a great shame when we Christians only see the passion and death of our Lord as nothing more than a reprieve from punishment. Yes, our Lord does redeem us from hell, but our Lord accomplishes even more on the cross. Our redemption is just the beginning. For the one who promises “I make all things new” indeed makes us new, as St. Paul proclaims: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come.” And while our senses continue to see the old person, and while we still live in this Valley of Sorrow surrounded by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, and while we yet experience death and decay – we have a divine promise! And this promise is not seen with the eyes, but is rather grasped by faith.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are a new creation. You may not feel like it. You may see very little evidence of it at times. But our Lord Jesus Christ truly defeated the devil from His cruciform throne. The King of the Universe wore the thorny crown, and while displaying the royal jewels of His blood, tokens of His royal authority, issued the decree casting the devil into hell. He also pardons us poor, miserable sinners who crucified Him by our own hands, by our own thoughts, words, and deeds. And finally, our King declared victory when we issued the edict: “It is finished,” using His final breath before dying to put all of these orders into place. The same Word that commanded “Let there be light” has now commanded “Let there be forgiveness” and “Let there be a new creation.”

Dear friends, that is why this sad and somber Friday is “Good.” We are freed from the demons and the temptations that lie to us and claim falsely that we are under their dominion. We have been liberated by a royal and divine act of mercy, of pardon, of love, of peace, and of re-creation. From the moment that our Blessed Lord yielded up His Spirit on the cross, nothing in our universe has ever been the same.

In this brutal act of violence, we have been given peace. In this unspeakable act of injustice, we have been made just. In these hours of darkness, we have been given an entire lifetime of light. In these bitterest days of mourning and fasting, we have been given an eternity of joy and feasting.

We know where this Good Friday leads. We know that death does not have the final say. We know that the body and blood of Christ cannot be contained in the tomb, nor constrained by the devil, nor limited by space and time. And we know that this sacrificial mercy is the ultimate act of love of the Father for His dear children; of the Son for His brethren for whom he willingly lays down His life; and of the Holy Spirit, who is poured out upon us abundantly bearing this divine love, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Thanks and praise be to the One who suffered and who died! For even as we are surrounded by death and mourning, we know what is yet to come: on the third day hence, and forevermore. Amen.

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

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