Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Sermon on John 18 – 19
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
March 29, 2013 (Good Friday)

The world would rather avoid Good Friday.  When you look around at the way the world celebrates Easter, you don’t see anything about Good Friday.  Of course, you don’t see very much of what Easter is really about either, namely the Resurrection of our Lord, and that’s because in order to have a Resurrection somebody has to die, and as I said, the world doesn’t like Good Friday.  The world celebrates Easter as sort of a general springtime festival, a celebration of the yearly cycle when the trees and the flowers come to life again.  And of course the way that the whole world seems to come to life again in the spring does provide us with an illustration of what happened on that first Easter morning.  But the problem is, the annual cycle of seasons, where plants go dormant for part of the year and everything seems dead, is natural.  Nature is supposed to look dead during the winter and come to life again during the spring.  It’s the way God made the plants so that they could deal with the extreme temperatures of the winter season and still be able to put forth leaves and flowers and seeds when the warmer season comes again.  But Good Friday and Easter Sunday are something else entirely.  The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ were a one time event.  And Good Friday especially is an uncomfortable holiday to observe.

It’s bad enough that Good Friday is about a Man dying.  It’s even worse that the Man in question was executed by the government for trumped up, false charges.  These aspects of Good Friday are already depressing.  But what the world really wants to avoid when it skips right over Good Friday to its paganized form of Easter, is the fact that it was our sinfulness that caused this Man to be killed.  We by nature don’t want to face our own sinfulness.  We would rather pretend that sin didn’t exist.  And even though we know deep down that we have done things wrong, we like to pretend that it’s not that bad.  Everybody does it.  Everyone’s a sinner.  And God will forgive me anyway, so why should I stop doing what I’m doing?  Even those of us who because of our upbringing know clearly from the Ten Commandments the difference between right and wrong tend to view sin far too casually.  We take God’s forgiveness for granted.  We view forgiveness of sins as a formality we have to go through in order to “get off the hook” for whatever it is we have done, and since God forgives us every time we might as well keep doing whatever it is we are doing.

But Good Friday cuts to the heart of all of that kind of self-deception and shows us how serious our sin really is.  We were the ones who put our Lord Jesus Christ on that cross.  It was our sins He came to suffer and die to release us from, and it was our sins that caused His terrible pain and anguish.  When we read the passion history together last Sunday, I assigned the part of the various crowds in that story to the congregation.  Someone mentioned to me during the Bible class how hard it was to say the part where the crowd was shouting, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”  It is hard to do that because we don’t like to admit that it was our sin that put Him there, that it was what we did, and what we still do every day, that caused our Lord and our Savior this much very real pain and suffering.  It was hard to do that because it means that every time we disregard God’s Law and do what He forbids, it is as if we really are shouting, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

The world would rather avoid Good Friday, because worldly people would rather avoid talking about their own sin.  But we are not of the world.  We who have been crushed by the Law into repentant sorrow, we to whom the declaration of forgiveness has been proclaimed, have a new perspective on Good Friday.  We view Christ on the cross not with the thief who mocked and ridiculed Him, but with the thief who repented and pleaded with Christ to have mercy on him.  To us, Christ on the cross is not an image we flee away from and try to hide, it is an image we cherish and treasure, because it is from the cross that Christ says to us, “Your sins are forgiven,” which is what He says to the repentant thief when He said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

The image of Jesus dying on the cross, whether it is a statue or a painting or a stained-glass window, is an image that the Church has cherished for many, many centuries.  Even when Jesus isn’t hanging on the cross, the symbol is still the same.  It is a symbol of Jesus’ death.  (By the way, some people have said that an empty cross doesn’t symbolize Jesus’ death, but rather Jesus’ resurrection.  That’s not really true, because if you think about it all that an empty cross means is that they took Him down and buried Him.)  But the Church has adopted the cross as its most prominent symbol, putting it at the top of every steeple, and in the front of every church building, either on the altar or on the wall, or both.  Using a cross as the symbol of the church would not seem to be very good public relations, since, as we mentioned earlier, Good Friday makes worldly people, as well as repentant Christians, very uncomfortable.  But the Church has Jesus’ death as its symbol because this is where the center of our faith is.

Everything we teach at this Church has its center in this event.  Salvation, eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, the new life of good works, etc., all of these depend upon Christ’s death.  We would not be saved, except that He paid the price we deserved for our sins.  We now live because He died in our place.  We will live eternally with Him because we died with Him through Holy Baptism, when we ourselves were marked with the cross, marked as ones redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  When we eat His body and drink His blood in Holy Communion, we are eating the body that was given into death for us and the blood that was shed on the cross for us.  That’s how Jesus Himself describes it in the Words of Institution.  And of course those words themselves were given the previous night, when Jesus knew He was about to die.  It’s no wonder that the Church has chosen this seemingly depressing picture as its most important symbol.  Such a symbol might be seen foolishness or even sickly morbid by the world.  But to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  It is in Christ’s crucifixion that we find our salvation.  This tree of death is now for us the tree of life.  And the fruit of that tree is now our food, His body and blood, of which we eat and live forever.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment