In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We confess in the Creed the following: "He suffered, died and was buried." And in the Old Testament, Isaiah the prophet confesses these words: "By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgressions of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." (Isaiah 53:8-9 ESV)
Some people just can't get themselves through the automatic glass doors of a hospital. They have no problem sending a card or a handful of flowers, but when given the opportunity to spend a few hours at the bedside of a seriously ill friend or relative, they'd rather have a root canal or their pinky chopped off. They just can't bring themselves to make a visit to the bed of those seriously ill. "I just wouldn't know what to say or do." they confess.
Good Friday is a lot like that. There's something in each of us that turns away and walks when we receive the invitation to come near our Savior and Redeemer as he hangs from a tree. A part of us asks, "Can't I just send a card or flowers?"
This evening there are plenty of people outside these walls who considered coming to services tonight. They told themselves, "I know it's Good Friday, and I should attend services to hear God's Word and give thanks for the gift of salvation won upon the cross of Calvary. But who wants to go visit someone on deathwatch? What would I say or do as I again hear about Jesus' agony — his shameful suffering and disgraceful death?
This day the sanctuary, the Scripture readings, the hymns, the pieces of cloth on the altar, everything — right down to the color of the candles — says, "Behold this one sinless, righteous man dying in the most shameful of ways for the sin of the world." And, in response, a part of us can't help but wait and watch, yet another part of us would much rather close our eyes and turn away.
Not only are two-thirds of the world's people today either completely ignorant or completely uninterested in "Good Friday," this day in the church year is observed by fewer and fewer Christians. "I only attend uplifting services." one person remarked, while another once told me in private, "I would come to services Friday but I just don't feel comfortable in asking my boss for time off to celebrate Jesus' death."
Well, obviously Christians and the Christian Church don't "celebrate" Jesus' suffering and death. We "commemorate" Jesus pouring out his life-blood upon the altar of the cross, we "observe" Good Friday, even if we haven't done as much as we could have to receive this day as a holy day — as Holy Friday. Even if we find ourselves unprepared to receive the gifts of this unique day of the Church Year. Even if we find ourselves like the three disciples in the garden:
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?" (Mark 14:32-37 ESV)
Nevertheless, the hour comes. The sacrifice has been chosen. The offering is willing. He has been washed and anointed for his one-of-a-kind mission. All is ready. He now stands at the entrance to heaven's sanctuary as he lays down his life for rebel sheep who love to stray — for rebel sheep who love to sleep — who love to stay away.
For Good Friday is good and holy and blessed, not because of our great attendance and our soul-stirring prayers or hymns during services. Good Friday is good, Holy Friday is holy, this blessed day is blessed on account of our Lord and his faithfulness to redeem a sinful world from its sin by the laying down of his very life. He brings his righteous, perfect life to God's heavenly altar — and we bring our sin, all we have done against God's will and law, all we have failed to do for the glory of God and our neighbor-in-need.
On this day our Lord Jesus completes the work he began at the manger, at the Jordan, in the garden — the work of securing for us the cup of salvation, the cup of forgiveness, the cup of redemption by taking to his lips the cup that had our names upon it — the cup of God's wrath and punishment.
Often we don't know what to do — what to say — when placed before the dying. And often we don't really know how to behave when it comes to Good Friday. Do we follow the world and simply deny it or ignore it or re-interpret it?
God in Christ through the Holy Spirit would sanctify this day as we are brought near the cross of Christ to watch and pray.
To watch and pray as our Lord does it all for us, on our behalf, in our place, just as Isaiah foretold:
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
Today is Good Friday, the darkest day of the church year — and yet, the most illuminating day of the church year — as we see the greatest revelation of God's wrath for sin — and, at the same time, as we see the greatest revelation of God's grace for an undeserving world.
In the hymn, "Were you there?" we are asked if we were there at Jesus' suffering and death upon the cross. And although we are separated from that pivotal event of salvation history by two thousand years ago and another continent, we can, in faith, believe that we were there — our sins were there as Jesus took his last breath to proclaim, "It is finished; it is complete; the debt of an entire rebel world is paid in full — for good."
A blessed Good Friday to each of you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit