A Sermon for Good Friday 2015
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
We’ve all been there, and if you haven’t yet, you will be. I’m speaking, of course, of the deathbed of a loved one.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a dear friend in the hospital with some brother pastors. We were there to sing hymns for our beloved professor, and it was great visit. But as we were leaving his room, a woman about my age came up and quietly asked whether we might be able to come to her mother’s room and sing there as well. So we did. Her mother was ninety-two. She was frail and unconscious, clearly nearing the end. And there at her deathbed, she was surrounded by her many children and grandchildren. The family was all there. And so was Jesus. You see, Jesus takes care of his family.
St. John is the only writer to record this intimate account of Jesus caring for his mother. The only other place where Mary is mentioned in John’s Gospel is at the very beginning, at the wedding at Cana, where she is alerted to the impending shortage of wine and tells Jesus, who replies: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” And yet Mary tells the wine stewards in faith: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:4). You see, Mary knew that Jesus takes care of his family.
Mary knew that from the very beginning, when the angel spoke into her ears the incredible news of a child to be conceived in her womb by the power of the Most High, a child who would be called “holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). And Mary’s faith received those words from the Lord, and the Son of God was thereby conceived in her womb. As we confess of Jesus,
“. . . conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died and was buried . . .” (Apostles’ Creed)
You see, Mary also knew of the pain that would come to her infant son. For at Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple at forty days old, Old Man Simeon had prophesied: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel . . . and a sword will pierce through your own soul also . . .” (Luke 2:34–35).
Here, at Calvary, when Jesus’ hour had finally come, that “dagger to the heart” came to Mary also, as she beheld the son she once cradled in her arms—now beaten, mocked, and crucified as a common criminal, bleeding, and dying in agony. Yet, in the midst of all of that, Jesus took care of his family.
And Jesus takes care of you, too. For Mary and the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” are a picture of you and me, a picture of Christ’s holy church, his family. “I will not leave you as orphans,” Jesus promised his disciples (John 14:18). And he has not left you abandoned and alone in your sin. He has not left you alone to face death. He will not leave you alone at the deathbed of your loved one. And he will not leave you alone at own deathbed. For Jesus has already passed through death, for you. By his death and resurrection, Jesus has swallowed up death forever in victory (Is. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54). And through your Baptism, you have been buried with him into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, you too might walk in newness of life. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:4–5).
Jesus takes care of his family. As he took care of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, so also takes care of you and me, His Church. For “that same heart which began to beat in Mary’s womb and had been silenced on the cross, once again began to beat in that cold dark tomb, and it still beats to this very day. It still beats for you and me” (O.P. Kretzmann).
As we prepare to celebrate the Holy Triduum, I want to share the writing that appears in the Treasury of Daily Prayer for today. C.F.W. Walther writes the following and it is a great piece to read on this day.
The apostle [Paul] wishes to say: Consider, beloved Christians, that when you receive the blessed cup and the blessed bread, each one partakes of the body and blood of Christ; they are both common to all of you. You come into body-and-blood fellowship with one another. For just as many grains become one bread, so in the Holy Supper, you, though you are many, become one Body, one mass, because you are partakes of the one bread and with it one and the same body and blood of Christ.
Because of the presence and participation of the body of Christ, the Holy Supper is a meal of the most intimate fellowship and, therefore, at the same time, the highest love-meal. Just as fervent love is demanded, so fervent love is delivered. We all come together, as children of the same family, to the table of our common, heavenly Father. As great as the distinction between communicants in civic life may be, in the Holy Supper all distinctions evaporate. We are all the same, in that we each eat the same earthly and heavenly bread and drink the same earthly and heavenly drink. In this Meal, the subject and his king, the slave and his master, the beggar and the rich, the child and the old man, the wife and the husband, the simple and the learned, truly all communicants stand as the same poor sinners and beggars, hungry and thirsty for grace. Although one may appear in a rough apron while another in velvet and satin, adorned with gold and pearls, when they depart, all take with them that for which they hunger and thirst: Christ’s blood and righteousness as their beauty and glorious dress. No one receives a better food and better drink than the other. All receive the same Jesus, and with Him, the same righteousness.
From Treasury of Daily Prayer © 2008 Concordia Publishing House,www.cph.org. Used by permission.
Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church Canada (LCC), explains how the LCC until 1988 was a district of the Missouri Synod. In 1854, the Missouri Synod had its first congregation in Canada. The mission work in Canada expanded so rapidly that the Missouri Synod created the Ontario District in 1879. In 1988, the LCC became an autonomous, self-governing church body. Since that time, the LCC and the LCMS work together closely. In recent years, the LCC and LCMS have engaged in cooperative mission work in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Cambodia. The LCC also does mission work in the Ukraine.
President Bugbee, Dr. Albert Collver, Rev. Ted Krey met to hear an update about the LCC and their mission work, and to discuss joint LCC and LCMS work in Latin America. Since 1997, the LCC has been engaged in mission work in Nicaragua. In 2008, the Iglesia Luterana Synod de Nicaragua (ILSN) was founded. In May 2014, The LCMS and Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) signed a protocol agreement May 13 in Chinandega, Nicaragua, with the Lutheran Church—Synod of Nicaragua (Iglesia Luterana Sinodo de Nicaragua, or ILSN) that allows for an expansion of mission work in the Central American country. The agreement outlines how the LCMS, LCC and ILSN will communicate, coordinate and work together in this mission endeavor. The agreement is not altar and pulpit fellowship, but a working understanding on how the three parties will interact. The meeting in Winnipeg, Canada, was to discuss the cooperative work of the LCC and the LCMS.
Pictured: Rev. Theodore Krey, LCMS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean; Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of the Lutheran Church of Canada; Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations / Regional Operations; Deaconess Cherie Auger, missionary to Nicaragua / Honduras; Rev. Edward Auger, missionary to Nicaragua / Honduras; Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, LCC Director of Missions & Social Ministry Services.
Dr. Neitzel and Rev. Auger discuss the work in Nicaragua and Honduras. The Augers are LCMS missionaries who are seconded to the LCC for their work in Latin America. The three-way agreement between the LCC-LCMS-ILSN provided the framework for this joint work.
President Robert Bugbee gives his greetings to his brothers and sisters in Christ from the LCMS.
Both the LCC and the LCMS thank the Lord for our close relationship and we pray that the Lord of the harvest would bless our joint work together around the world.
—Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations / Regional Operations
The Service of Praise and Thanksgiving for Ronald Raymond Feuerhahn was held on 17 March 2015 at the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, where Dr. Feuerhahn served for 22 years. The press announcement about his funeral can be found here on Concordia Seminary’s website. Several years ago, the students of Dr. Feuerhahn prepared a Festschrift for him titled, Lord Jesus Christ, Will You Not Stay? (This book is available as an ePub and on Kindle from CPH.) Of course, the death of every saint is precious in the eyes of the Lord, but when a teacher of the church enters his eternal rest the effect is felt on a broader scale. A teacher of the church affects his students, his follower teachers, the pastors of the church, and indirectly all the congregation members who had pastors taught by him. Because of this effect, the Scriptures urge the church to take caution in appointing teachers of the church (“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1).
Unlike the Roman Catholic church, Lutherans do not pray to the dead. However, there is a proper remembrance of those who died in the faith, a thanksgiving for the work that the Lord has done in their lives, and even an imitation of how those in the faith who died lived their lives. Children commonly do this by imitating their parents, just as students do their teachers. Hermann Sasse, in Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume III (available from CPH in hardcover and on Kindle) wrote about remembering the dead. In his essay “The Remembrance of the Dead in the Liturgy,” Section 8, Sasse writes:
“Let me say a word about that which is specifically important for our death-filled century. The remembrance of the dead needs to be revived in the church. It is one of the bases of the powerful attraction of Catholicism in our day that it has preserved this remembrance, while Protestantism, including Lutheranism, has lost it. Therefore, despite all assurances to the contrary, Protestantism has to a greater or lesser extent become a this-side-of-eternity religion. It was the task of the Reformation to dissolve the symbiosis which in Catholicism brought about a point of contact between the Christian faith and pagan presuppositions about the hereafter. The result of this paganism in the church’s faith and practice has been all too evident; it is no accident that the Reformation began precisely on an All Saints’ Eve (October 31, 1517) with a protest against he fearful commerce which was designed to accomplish the salvation of souls.”
Dr. Sasse goes on to point out how Dr. Martin Luther’s liturgical reforms of the church refocused the church on the purpose of Holy Communion, “forgiven sinners who in the reception of the Lord’s true body and blood are made one with all members of the church, all the saints in heaven and on earth, as the Body of Christ.”
On Sunday morning, in the Proper Preface in the Communion liturgy, the pastor says, “…therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name ever more saying:” Then the congregation sings the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth…” Although dead separates us from the saints in heaven, we are untied together in the body of Christ. Sasse concludes his letter, “It is my hope that the considerations of this letter, for which you waited so long, and longer than you should have, will contribute to the clarification of our thoughts about one of the most difficult theological questions and help us rightly to exercise the church’s ministry of consolation in a cheerless world.”
[Note: This homily, drawn from Isaiah 53:1-12, was preached in chapel at the International Center of the LCMS on Friday, March 6, 2015. + Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President]
It is almost as though Isaiah was there, in the background, watching the events unfold that Friday morning on Calvary. In some mysterious way, Isaiah, by the Holy Spirit, can see it all happen, and write it down 700 years before hand.
- Despised and rejected by men — as they mocked him, “if you are the Christ, come down from the cross!”
- A man of sorrows — as the women on the Via Dolorosa were weeping for Him.
- Despised, we esteemed Him not — as the world insults or ignores Him.
- Oppression and judgment carried Him away — at the farce called a trial before Caiaphas, then Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again.
- He is cut off from the land of the living.
- They made His grave with the wicked, and a rich man — as they buried Him in Joseph’s tomb.
- Though He had done no violence — as Pilate washed His hands of Him.
- Numbered with the transgressors — crucified between two thieves, but He prays, “Father forgive them…”
- He poured out His soul in death and bore the sin of many — as He said, “no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18).
So many details. So much that Isaiah wrote down ahead of time. There can be no doubt that this is true prophecy. No one went back and wrote this into Isaiah after the fact. In 1947 they discovered the Qumran Scrolls, with an almost complete copy of Isaiah, a copy made 200 years before Christ, containing these exact words.
God gives Isaiah the privilege to stand, together with all believers, at the foot of the cross. It is holy ground. Indeed, as we watch, we cannot help but think of our sins.
We put Him there.
We despised Him. We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. He was wounded for OUR transgressions. We are the sheep gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way.
“Who has believed what they heard from us?” Isaiah asked. Who is the suffering servant of the Lord? Who will it be? They must have wondered at Isaiah’s time.
Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, on his way back to his Queen, when the Spirit told Philip the Evangelist to join his chariot, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I,” he replied, “unless someone guides me.”
And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this (from Isaiah 53): “Like a sheep that was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this? About himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35)
For what this Scripture reveals in Christ is much MORE than simply the details of prophecy ahead of time. God moves Isaiah to lay out the WHY. Notice the interplay of HE and WE, and HIS and OURS, as I read this portion again:
- 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 punishment that brought US peace.
- With HIS stripes WE are healed.
- All WE like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
This is where our wonder and amazement increase beyond measure. All OUR sins are on HIM. He was oppressed. He was afflicted — FOR US.
But here is the greatest wonder of all! Isaiah says:
“It was the WILL of the LORD to crush Him. He, [the LORD God Himself,] has put Him to grief!” (Isaiah 53:10)
Now picture Jesus in Gethsemane. He knows this prophecy. He knows what it means. “Yet not my will,” he prays to the Father, “but Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42).
THIS is the great good news Philip spoke, the Good News we now proclaim, this great exchange that happens with Jesus.
Luther writes of this passage: “He was punished for the sake of our peace. Note the wonderful exchange. One man sins, another pays the penalty. One deserves peace, the other has peace. The one who should have peace, has punishment, while the one who should be punished has peace. … This is the supreme and chief article of faith, that our sins, placed on Christ, are not ours any longer; and again, the peace is not Christ’s, but Christ makes it ours.” (American Edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, p. 225).
And so it is. “By His knowledge, shall the righteous One, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, for He shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11).
Isaiah shows us our sins, not on us, but put on Christ. So we are called to turn away from self, and to be carried over to Christ, “because he poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, for he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12).
Yes, this text is holy ground for us …
- And we are filled with penitent sorrow for our part: we put Christ on the cross.
- But by the Spirit of God we have humble gratitude that the Lord laid all our sins on Him, that He was wounded for us, that with His stripes we are healed.
Even when you don’t feel it! Hold this Word close.
In the name of Jesus — Amen.