In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What are words before the image of the death of God? How can we, for yet another year, crack open again this mystery and meditate on the Man of sorrows, who bleeds and dies so that our sorrow and sighing will finally and forever flee away? What shall we say to betrayal by one of His own Twelve? What shall we say again this year that has not been said a hundred times before? The problem is not that we have exhausted all the words, but that our words are incomplete, incompetent, incapable of comprehending what, exactly, is going on when Jesus hangs on the cross. It is as much a mystery as the fact that Jesus is fully and truly God and, at the same time, fully and truly a man. It is as much a mystery as the fact that with water, the Word of God joins sinners to His cross and resurrection, or that with bread and wine, His very body and blood are eaten and drunk. None of these things can be explained; they can only be believed, or not; and the God who does them only worshiped, or denied.
So believe them, baptized beloved of our Lord. Worship Him, brothers and sisters of our King. This Jesus of Nazareth has drunk the cup that the Father has given Him. Neither Peter’s sword, nor the weapons of those who come to arrest Jesus can prevent Him from drinking the poisoned cup of sin and suffering, into which the Lord has put all our sin: your fear of everything but God, my feeble trust that wants demonstrations of power instead of the hidden strength of Christ’s death; our love cold and lifeless toward both God and our neighbor. While Peter is questioned and denies even knowing Him, Jesus is questioned and speaks nothing but the truth. While the leaders of Israel separate themselves in imagined purity for the eating of the Passover, Jesus gives Himself as the true Passover Lamb. Christ our Passover is sacrificed! God, have mercy; let us keep the Feast undefiled! See, His blood now marks our door; faith points to it; death passes over. While Pilate asks, “What is truth,” the Truth stands before him, bound and bloody. His authority does not come from the number of His servants, or from armies He can raise, but from His Father. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Even as He is whipped, even as they mock Him as the King of the Jews, even as they call for Barabbas, He loves them. His blood, which should be their condemnation and ours, is instead our salvation, and theirs. They call for the release of one named “son of the father,” while the Son of the Father goes chained to death. Pilate finds no guilt, nor can any be found in Him—except your guilt, and mine, and the guilt of the whole world. It is all there, in His wounds, weighing down His head, piercing His hands and feet. Behold the Man! Pilate says, and we behold Him, the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, so that sinners go free, without condition or merit. Behold your King! Pilate says. And while they submit themselves to Caesar, Jesus submits Himself to His Father, even unto death. The Passover Feast is prepared, the Lamb handed over to slaughter, and He goes without a word: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. He who made the tree carries it Himself; He who pronounced the curse bears it Himself. Out to a mountain, to a skull, to crush the skull of the serpent, of the old Adam, of death itself. There they divided His garments among them. There they crucified Him, between two others. There He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors, even for me, even for you. “The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel. O frightful murder! O unheard of injustice! …Yes, even though the people did not tremble, the earth trembled instead; although the people were not afraid, the heavens grew frightened; although the people did not tear their garments, the angels tore theirs; although the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven, and the most high uttered his voice” (Melito of Sardis, On the Passover, 96-98, http://tinyurl.com/aruzpg9). The water of life thirsts, and He is finished to finish death. And on the Day of Preparation, when Israel was to gather twice the manna, He gives you double the Bread of heaven for all your sins (Isaiah 40:2). Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned. Now it is complete; this is the Lord’s work, and it is glorious in our eyes. And they laid Him in the tomb, but He did not—could not—stay dead.
This is the mystery. So believe it, baptized beloved of our crucified Lord. Worship Him in His wounded and glorified flesh, brothers and sisters. Eat that same body, drink that same blood. Sing the glorious battle; sing the ending of the fray! The end that is the beginning. And to that beginning, to that end, He was laid in a garden tomb, in order that the Garden of Paradise might be restored to the children of Adam and Eve. But He went to death and the grave in full confidence that His Father would not let Him see decay, but would raise Him from the dead. So also for you: “[T]ake comfort and rejoice, for His members Christ will cherish. Fear not, [you] will hear His voice; dying, [you] will never perish; for the very grave is stirred when the trumpet’s blast is heard. Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave and at death no longer tremble; He, the Lord, who came to save will at last His own assemble. [You] will go [your] Lord to meet, treading death beneath [your] feet” (LSB 741:6-7).
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, 4/1/15