Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers



John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

You all know the story of Good Friday and of your Lord’s Passion pretty well. You hear it recounted year after year, and rightly so, for it is a central tenet of our Christian faith. You also hear it weekly, in part, in our Divine Service and in the Gospel rightly proclaimed. To be sure, the story of Christ’s Passion is emotionally provocative. It inspires sadness and remorse, pity and anguish, revulsion and anger. It moves, not a few, to tears. But, what lasting impact, I wonder, does it have upon you? Has it changed you for the better in any particular way?

This Good Friday, I encourage you to focus upon the effect that Jesus’ suffering and death has had upon you and how you live your life today and from now on. While your Lord suffered scourging, crucifixion, and death to redeem you from your sin and guilt, and that fact is the primary truth we remember this day, that is not the only thing that Jesus has done for you in His Passion. Indeed, Jesus’ death was not merely for you, so that you are the benefactor, which you surely are, but Jesus’ death was also as you. Likewise, Jesus’ resurrection was both for you and as you as well. This means that Jesus’ death and resurrection was your death and resurrection. Not only does it count for you, but it happened to you.

Jesus proclaimed this fact when He taught about serving others saying, “As you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.” And, what our Lord proclaimed matter-of-factly, St. Paul has explained more theologically saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we 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.” Thus, when you serve your brother, sister, and neighbor in Christ, you serve your Lord Jesus in whom they are baptized, have died and have been raised from death. And, even when you serve your neighbor who does not believe in Christ, you still serve Christ who died for them and as them as well.

This Lenten season we prayed the Litany together throughout our midweek Vespers. In one petition of that great prayer we prayed, “By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; By Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial; By Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.” We appeal to God on account of these His works in His Son Jesus. In and through these, God became what we are. All that He did He did for you as you. All that He did you did in Him. And, what is true for you is true for your brother, your sister, your neighbor as well.

Thus St. Paul exhorts you saying, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What does it mean to “regard no one according to the flesh” than to recognize that every person you know, will meet, or encounter, every person on this planet now, or ever has been or ever will be, is not merely a man, woman, or child, but each and every one of them – good or bad, rich or poor, likeable or unlikeable, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or any other – is an enfleshed soul created by God and redeemed by God in the incarnation, nativity, baptism, crucifixion and death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The rat race of your lives can easily lead you to have a pragmatic and utilitarian view of life and the world as you go to work, pay your bills and taxes, struggle to keep up your home, educate your children, and worry about things you cannot control in the world: disease, economic uncertainty, racial unrest, political strife, violence, death. That view might conclude: “Whatever works is good.” Jesus died to cleanse you from your sin and failure to keep the Law that enslaved you to futile and fruitless obedience with death being your only reward. Jesus rose from death to raise you to new life in Him that you might “be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”

“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Christ’s death and resurrection are both for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. But, do you know this? Do you feel this? Do you live this? This is no preaching of the Law telling you what you must do, but this is a proclamation of the Gospel telling you of the freedom you have and enjoy in Christ! Don’t place yourself back under the shackles of the Law. Don’t let Satan lie to you and deceive you so that you believe, feel, and live as though you are not free. The hallmark of living freely in Christ is not being enslaved to the Law and material, worldly, and fleshly desires, values, and goods. The fruit of living freely in Christ, the fruit of the Gospel and Spirit, is giving freely of what you have freely received: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, charity, kindness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, perseverance.

What all this means is that your life is not your own – and that’s a good thing! You have died and have been buried with Christ; likewise you have been raised with Christ. Christ’s life is your life, and your life is His. Christ died for you and as you that He might cleanse you from sin and guilt and free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law. If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed! And, what He has done for you and as you He has done for all. Therefore, regard no one according to the flesh alone, but everyone as Christ – “When you did it to the least of these my brothers you did it to me.”

It is finished – all that was necessary to make you right with God, all that was necessary to redeem you from sin and death, all that was necessary to free you from slavery and condemnation under the Law is finished, completed, and fulfilled in Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Jesus took all of that upon Himself and He died for you and as you and was buried. However, He did not remain in that tomb, but He rose from the dead on the third day just as He had said. To remain in sin and death and worldly, fleshly, and material desires, pleasures, and pursuits is to remain in death and the tomb; it is to return to a rotting, stinking, filthy corpse. But, Jesus has died and has been raised that you might live for Him and as Him. And, while this new life is not always easy, Jesus promises to be with you through it all. When you give to others, you give with His gifts. When you forgive others, you forgive with His forgiveness. When you love others, you love with His love.

You are not the same. In Christ you have been reconciled with God; therefore, be reconciled with your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are a new creation in Christ, and so also your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. You are blessed to be a blessing. This is why we call this day good. Jesus’ death is for you and as you. Jesus’ resurrection is for you and as you. In Christ, you are a new creation. Glory be to God alone.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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