Thursday, April 4, 2013

The witness of blood and water. . .

Sermon for Good Friday evening, preached on March 29, 2013.

    The Romans were brutally efficient.  They had long before perfected the art of crucifixion.  They had turned it into something like an art form.  It happened so often, it was routine.  Brutal, yes, but ordinary.  So when the spear pierced the side of Jesus, there was a surprise.  Blood and water flowed.  The shock was duly noted.  Witnesses saw it.  Pilate was surprised by it.  But even death must follow the script which God has written.  So that in death, we might find the life Christ has come to give.
    They pierced the side of Christ to see if He were already dead.  And the blood and water that flowed showed that He was.  There in signs and witness of His death we find a hint of Baptism and Holy Communion, the sacraments of life and worship.  In this very means used to authenticate Jesus’ death, it the means used to impart to us His life through the means of grace.  The witness of death becomes the testimony of life.  The early Church made much of this detail.  We cannot afford to overlook it.  The sign of Jesus death has become the sign of His life.  The blood and water point us to where the fruits of His death are accessible to us.
    Witnesses confirmed it.  This is how it was.  And that is how the Church works.  We are called and gathered by the means of grace, the witness of Jesus life and death through which the Spirit works to impart faith to our fearful hearts.  And we are sent not as evangelists so much as we witnesses to what God did and continues to do through the means of grace.  The Spirit has called us to this water that connects us to Calvary and His cross, the water that gives life to those who die there with Christ and in Him.  The Spirit feeds us with this bread and wine that bestows the crucified flesh and shed blood of Jesus.  We speak the saving story to others and they are drawn to the place where the Spirit works, to the means of grace, to the Word and Sacraments.
    Calvary has brought heaven near.  That is what the witness confirms to us.  That is our witness to the world.  Here, hidden in Calvary's death is heaven's life.  The Word that tells what happened is the Word that imparts to us the heavenly life – the visible Word of baptism and the Eucharist through which we are born anew and sustained in this new life.  Heaven is brought low in the cross and that cross is brought near to us in the Word, Water, and Meal.
    Scripture is filled with witnesses.  Some of them saw and understood what they saw.  Others saw and did not get what it was they beheld.  Jesus calls us witnesses and sends us forth just as He sent forth His disciples.  We are called witnesses – not simply spectators who watch a distant event but as those who have a stake in what happens and who are born anew by the life surrendered to death and the death that holds forth life.
    We are called not to explain God or defend Him.  We are called first to trust in the death that gives us life on the cross.  And we are also called to speak this Gospel of the cross to those who have not heard.  Our Lord has willingly surrendered His life for us on the cross.  Our life comes from that sacrificial death and no where else.  Calvary is not some rite of passage our Lord went through, it is the culmination of His saving work and our salvation comes from where this Word is proclaimed and the sacraments of the cross administered.  Where blood and water once flowed in death, now God has made them flow for life – with power to save every sinner and give life to all under the power of death and to forgive and make holy the worst of sinners.  This is what we witness.  Water and blood that once flowed to mark the death of Christ, now flows for the life of all who will be redeemed.  This is our joy, our hope, and our witness to the world.  Amen.

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