Friday, April 22, 2011

Sermon: Good Friday – 2011

22 April 2011 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.

“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

There are great milestones in history that mark a passing away of an old order and the entrance of a new order. Sometimes, the living witnesses to these milestones realize the significance of what their eyes behold, and other times, it falls to people in the future to see the change.

In world history, there were many examples of such irrevocable changes in history, things that happen that simply make going back impossible, such as when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor, when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door, when the Berlin Wall was torn down, or when planes flew into the World Trade Center.

Once these historic events happened, there was no return to the former order of things.

And as significant as all of these events are, none of them is as history-changing as two closely related events having to do with wood: one at the beginning of creation, and one involving the restoration of creation. For in the beginning, the Lord created a perfect habitat for humanity and placed the first perfect man and the first perfect woman in a perfect garden. They were given a perfect existence without sin or death. They were even granted the privilege to stand face to face with God, and were surrounded with trees heavy-laden with edible fruits, the sweet taste of which our fallen senses cannot even begin to imagine. But our once-perfect ancestors chose to eat from a tree that was off-limits. That fateful decision changed the world forever. There was no going back to the garden.

We have struggled with sin and death and the devil ever since. The trees that sustained us gave way to weeds that strangle out our food and create hard labor for us. Thorns injure us. We suffer and we die. There is no going back to the garden. Sadly, “The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” And in this present world order, “new” does not mean “improved,” but rather corrupted and fallen.

But, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the “love of Christ controls us.” God, in His infinite love and mercy, does not leave us stranded from the garden forever. There is a hopeful coming of the “new” and a joyful passing away of the “old.”

In another universe-altering event, God took the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The baby Jesus was laid in a manger of wood, constructed out of a fallen and dead tree from the fallen and dead world by a fallen and dead man.

But this perfect Man grew in stature and revealed Himself to be God – but what’s more, He revealed Himself to be our Savior. And His destiny was to mark a milestone in the history of creation that dwarfs everything that has come before: including the fall in the garden.

Our agony in the Garden of Eden gave way to His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He took on our sin and death, He surrendered His privilege to stand before God (crying out in the words of the Psalm, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?). And He submitted Himself, heavy laden to the fruits of His passion, and was nailed to the cross, constructed out of a fallen and dead tree from the fallen and dead world by a fallen and dead man. He was given sour wine to drink, the decaying fruit from a corrupted earth. “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see Him dying on the tree!” And bringing the old order forever to a close, He proclaimed: “It is finished.” And “He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.”

Our blessed Lord struggled with sin and death and the devil because of our sins, and He, the sinless One, was victorious for us. The tree upon which He was crucified became for us a Tree of Life. Thorns injured Him on our account, but He overcame them in our place. He was to suffer and to die to take away our suffering and give us life. There is no going back to the garden of sin and death. Indeed, this is a Good Friday in which “The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” By virtue of the cross, “new” means immortal and incorruptible. For He was not to remain in the garden tomb, dear friends, but following His Sabbath rest, He has given the universe a new and equally wondrous milestone – one in which death is replaced by life, grief with hope, mourning with rejoicing, and alienation with “the ministry of reconciliation.”

“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.”

There is no turning back, dear friends. By means of the cross of dead wood descended from the fallen trees of the corrupted old garden, our Lord is creating for us a new garden, freed from sin, death, and the devil, teeming instead with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Our Lord’s cross of death is our Tree of Life, bearing perfect fruits for all eternity.

“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Amen.

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

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