Download or listen to Good Friday Chief Service: “Until He Comes”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christians around the world gather on this day to ponder, to consider, to meditate upon the Passion of Jesus Christ. If anyone thinks of sin lightly, nor supposes the evil great, here, at the foot of the cross, we may view sin’s nature rightly and here its guilt may estimate (LSB 451:3). On the other hand, there are not a few who would rather skip this good Friday altogether, perhaps because the cross sheds such a harsh, unavoidable light upon the guilt of our sin and the enormity of its cost. But we are not here to consider a merely historical event, even less to create some sort of historical reenactment. Nor are we here to get the sad part over so we can move on to the happier Easter Sunday. To consider Good Friday along those lines is to make it irrelevant. As long as the event of the cross is safely in the past, it does us about as much good as any of our memories. And if the event of the cross were safely in the past, no atheist would get worked up about it, any more than he might about Zeus or Osiris. If the cross were safely in the past, then this day would simply be an opportunity to talk about Jesus’ pacifism in the face of Rome’s injustice; or to indulge some Germanic desire to feel sad or guilty about something; or, as some churches are doing, to focus today on the earth as the one we are crucifying with our fuel use and carbon emissions. If the cross were safely in the past, “Jesus died for my sins” becomes a mere slogan, while we go on living exactly the way we would if Christ had never been born at all.
The cross is not safely in the past for St. Paul. “We ourselves preach Christ crucified,” He says, God’s Sign and God’s Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:23). “For I have decided not to know anything among you except Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2). “And may it never be for me to boast except in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ, through which the world was crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you are proclaiming publicly the death of the Lord, until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Everywhere, at all times, in all circumstances, until Christ, the crucified, returns: God forbid that anything would characterize our life in this world but the cross on which our Savior died. We are never done with it, we never move past it. We cannot, as long as we live in this sinful flesh, in this sinful world, oppressed by the devil and his angels, leave the cross safely in the past. It is the heart of the Gospel; the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
But it cannot be the power of God simply as an event that happened in the past. To be done with the cross is to be done with the Gospel. It is the power of God for salvation because He delivers the cross to us; the Spirit puts us on the cross with Christ in Baptism; we return to the cross constantly by confession and absolution; and, as we hear today, every time we receive the bread and the cup, we proclaim the crucifixion, by which Christ gives us His broken body and shed blood. His death is our life in the midst of death; and His resurrection is the proof that death does not have the last word; not for Him, and not for you. “The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,/We celebrate with one accord;/It is our comfort in distress,/Our heart’s sweet joy and happiness” (LSB 634:1). O Lord, hold Thou Thy cross before my eyes, when they close in sleep and when they close in death.
“Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow, and on everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we rise up; when we are in the way, and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the sake of the poor; without toil, for the sick; since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of devils: for He triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, who bruised the heads of the dragon” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture XIII:36 [http://bit.ly/dVcJq8]). So, Beloved, “Draw near and take the body of the Lord,/And drink the holy blood for you outpoured;/Offered was He for greatest and for least,/Himself the victim and Himself the priest” (LSB 637:1). And today that High Priest comes to you, seen only by faith, and offers His Body and Blood; as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, until He comes in the glory of the Father, seen by everyone, we proclaim His death as the grace that covers every single sin and every single sinner. Until He comes. “Yes, I am coming quickly,” He says. Amen; Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/19/11