Saturday, April 8, 2023

Not impressive?

Sermon for Good Friday (PM), preached on Friday, April 7, 2023.

Sometimes the build up is bigger than the end.  Certainly that is true for much of what we do in Church.  We expect mighty things, impressive things, and so often we go home disappointed.  What was once a surprise has become a well rehearsed script called the Church Year.  We know the story so well we can even repeat the words as the Pastor reads the text.  Not as impressive as we wanted it to be. But death is not impressive.  It is sad and lonely and often painful but it is seldom impressive.  That is true also for the death of Jesus.

The death of Christ is a kind of funeral liturgy but in other ways is rather unique. Of course, there are no TVs running to show us Jesus’ baby pictures and the body is not touched up by the funeral director to look almost alive.  The family is here not because they want to be – who does – but because it is what you do when death comes.  You come together to remember, to give thanks, and to hear comfort.  

One of the things we do for comfort is to sing.  Singing was once part of everyday life but is now something isolated to a few churches and Sunday mornings.  We listen but we do not sing.  Maybe that is still what some of you do in church – you listen but do not sing.  Yet it is in the singing of what has taken place that we are reminded this death is not for nothing but for you and me.  It is in this singing that we are encouraged to believe that this death does not merely mean something but has accomplished something.

Sermons are curious things in our digital age.  It is hard to listen to such a long reading from the Passion according to St. John.  It is hard to hear a sermon of ten minutes much less twenty.  There are no screens to engage your attention but only words on a page and words in the mouth of the preacher.  It is not so impressive.

But this is not a show.  It does not entertain.  It does not amuse.  It is the sound of death that intrudes upon our evening, an old death that God would not have us forget and though this death sounds like the escaping breath of any other death, it accomplishes what no death has done before or since.  It is the once for all death in which sin is done and death itself dies.  The miracle is not in the moving character of what happens tonight but why He dies and what His death has accomplished for you and me and for all the world, if they would believe in it.  The tragedy in this death is not what we would think.  Jesus goes to death willingly for you and me.

In most funerals we complain that death has taken something from us.  It robbed us of a mom or dad or husband or wife or son or daughter or friend.  We wear the black to tell the world we are grieving the loss and touch our eyes to wipe away the tears.  But we call this funeral day GOOD Friday.  We are not hear to lament a life ended too quickly but to announce to the world the life strong enough to die so we might live.  We are bidden come not because of the sadness of a family that has lost a son and a brother but because by this death Christ has won for His family the lost brothers and sisters who had only death but now have life.

Tonight the setting is sparse.  No paraments to adorn the altar or banners to herald the faith.  No vestments of color but only black.  The only adornment for this night is the crucifix.  The focus is the body – the body given into suffering to relieve us, the body crucified to pay the price of sin, and the body that lies broken by the burden of bearing it all.  The next stop is a tomb, a grave carved out of stone where the Son of the Most High God will lay in cold darkness.  The better part of the preacher is not to make this death too dramatic or to turn the focus from the Christ in suffering to the man who tells you about it.  Not so impressive.

Jesus goes as a silent Lamb of God into the suffering of the altar of the cross for you and for me.  Everything in the Law and the Prophets and the Writings pointed to this moment.  Everything that comes after it points to this moment.  Christ dies that we might live.  He pays the awful price of sin not with silver or gold but with His very flesh and blood.  He does for us what we would not and could not do for ourselves.  That is what is impressive.  Why you can hardly get someone to die for a good cause much less one to die for sinners who were enemies of God.

Yet this is not the end.  Death is not the end.  This page of the story ends in death but this is not the end of the story.  We will wait tomorrow and gather again to remember how God foretold this deliverance through the ages.  We will lift baptismal water to give new birth to a lost life.  Then we will come again in the morning to hear the final chapter.  It will not surprise anyone.  Its power is not in its surprise ending but in the familiar announcement that Christ is risen.  His rising does not make up for His dying but completes the one saving act in which the sinner is forgiven, the guilty is made righteous, and the dead is raised to life.  That is why we call this Good Friday.  That is why for the Church, the liturgies of Holy or Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are one liturgy and one story.  

He lives.  The hint of it is already in the air.  When Jesus commends Himself to the Father, we are given a glimpse of what is to come.  He is laid in the tomb but the tomb will not hold Him.  His cross that once was scandal and shame will become for us the greatest sign of hope the world has ever known.  Calvary will be remembered forever as the holy garden where the death of Eden was overcome.  The enemy will continue to fight but his battle is lost.  He can wound but he cannot kill anymore.  The grave becomes a bed where we sleep until Christ awakens us to eternal life.  

Thanks be to God.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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