Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, Series A

Sermon on John 18-19
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 22, 2011 (Good Friday, Series A)

According to the way many Christians think, Good Friday is a depressing day, a day to mourn the terrible things which happened to our Lord, a day which we only observe so that Easter will seem that much more joyful in comparison. It looks to human eyes like Christ is defeated, like His ministry ended in tragedy. Death is the end of it, is what human reason tells us, and it isn’t a victorious thing. Certainly it’s true that Good Friday is very somber and serious, since what Christ endured for our salvation is neither pleasant nor easy. He suffered through just about the worst sort of torture and execution that mankind has ever devised, and even that physical suffering was nothing compared to the fact that He did it with the guilt of our sins weighing upon His heart. Since it was we who put Him there through our sinfulness and rebellion against God, Good Friday is a day to reflect penitently and seriously on our sin. And so it’s appropriate that the mood be serious and somber. After all, even though it was done out of love for us, to win us the victory, it was still painful and bloody for our Lord.

But Good Friday is not a defeat for Christ. Easter is not the undoing of Good Friday, it is rather the fulfillment of Good Friday. Christ doesn’t win the victory by rising again from the dead on Easter Sunday, He wins the victory by suffering and dying on Good Friday. Easter is the proclamation, the fulfillment, of what was really happening on Good Friday. We can see this from Christ’s word from the cross in our sermon text. Christ says, “It is finished.” This is not a word of despair, a word which pronounces the end upon His message or His ministry. Rather it is a word of fulfillment, a word by which Christ proclaims to the world that everything is accomplished, that our redemption is complete. It is finished. Since it was our sins that led Him to the cross, it is our sins, our death, and our eternal damnation that are now completely destroyed.

This word, “It is finished,” reminds us that there is nothing more that needs to be done, or even can be done, for our salvation. Christ has done it all, and our part is simply to receive His completed work through Word and Sacrament. By nature we tend to think that we should have something to contribute to our own salvation. We tend to think that our living a good life should be part of how we “get right with God.” That’s the idea that keeps people away from Church or away from Holy Communion sometimes, because they think that they need to do something, to achieve a certain level of sanctification, before they can come and share in God’s blessings to us. But Jesus tells you in this text that none of this is necessary. He makes you right with Him. Everything that is necessary was done by Him on the cross. Your salvation is completed. Heaven is open to you. Your sins are paid for. It is finished. And the Word and Sacraments you receive here are not something you do to please Him or get right with Him, rather they are the means by which He comes to you to give you the blessings He won for you, blessings which were perfected and completed on the cross.

And so we see that Good Friday is not the opposite of Easter at all. The salvation and the eternal life which we will celebrate on Sunday were won on Good Friday. Christ couldn’t have been resurrected as the firstfruits of the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth, if He had not first died to this old world and all of its sin and death. Yes, it was our sin that put Him there. It was the punishment we deserved that He suffered. But it was a victorious suffering. It was a suffering that freed us from suffering. It was a death that freed us from death. Christ bore our sin so that we can share in His righteousness. He who was not a sinner and therefore not subject to death died to free us from the eternal death that we deserved. If Christ had not died on Good Friday, He would not have risen on Easter Sunday. The joy and the wonder of Easter, the celebration of new life which has been granted to us who have been made partakers in Christ our risen Lord, is not possible without the death of Christ on the cross. You can’t resurrect something that hasn’t died. Christ’s death on the cross was necessary for our salvation just as our own deaths to sin in Holy Baptism are necessary for us to receive the newness of life which God grants us through water and the Word.

It is only because Christ dies that the Church is born. It is only because He sheds His blood that the Church can be cleansed in it and renewed. It is only when water and blood come forth from Christ’s side that we are able to be partakers of that water and that blood through Holy Baptism and through the Lord’s Supper. The sacraments which gave us birth in the faith and which nourish and sustain our faith have their root in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as Eve was born out of the side of Adam, whom the Lord caused to fall into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs and formed the woman from it, so also the Church, the bride of Christ, is formed when Christ sleeps the sleep of death and from His side comes out the elements from which the Church is reborn into eternal life. Here is the tree of life, which, if a man eat of its fruit, he will live forever. This tree, the tree of the cross, bears a fruit that gives us eternal life itself, the fruit of Christ’s body and blood, given us in the Lord’s Super. Here, on the cross, is the source of our eternal life. Here is the center of our salvation. We eat that which was broken for us, and drink what was shed for us, and in so doing we receive the perfect, complete, and, yes, finished salvation which He won for us today. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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