The Word of God that confronts us this Good Friday, as we finish our journey with the prophet, comes from Zechariah, chapter 12: [Zechariah 12:10-14]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Look upon your God; you have pierced Him through. Your coveting and stealing have made stripes on His back. Your lying, hating, and murdering have put thorns into His blessed brow. Your dishonoring of parents and those in authority have put nails through His hands and feet. And your desecration of His holy day, your misusing of His Name, and your multiplying gods have pierced His side, marking Him as one dead. Behold, this is your God. You have killed Him. Do you mourn for what you have done, as Zechariah prophesied? Do you mourn as bitterly as if you had lost your only child, knowing that your body would bring forth no others? Weep bitterly, O people, because you have looked upon the one you pierced, and seen in Him the everlasting Son of the Father.
The earth itself mourns: the rocks split in agony, the land shakes in terror, the created lights of the sky hide their faces in grief, and all is darkness as the eternal God dies in flesh. And here we gather, the members of each family by themselves, confronted with a blasphemy so enormous that it is a wonder that existence did not cease immediately. “God must die. It is a lie so monstrous that to suggest it invites instant annihilation—except that God accepts the verdict” (Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon, 27). And we mourn, each for our own self and for our own sin. But if mourning is the only conclusion to what happened on a Roman cross, then there will be no end, because there is no end to your sin or mine. Keep digging, and you will find nothing but death and more death. And so God pours out “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy” (Zechariah 12:10, ESV). He pours out His own Spirit upon us so that we do not continue to hide our faces in tears and mourning. There is no hope that way. But our God is a God of hope, not of despair. If you did not have the Spirit, you would not cry out for mercy and plead for grace. Even more, if you did not know that this one was pierced for you, you could hope for neither mercy nor grace. Your sin is too great for mere wishing and wanting. You need the drastic and devastating grace of God in Jesus Christ: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). In “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV). It was precisely because the families of the world could not reconcile themselves to God; because God did not need to be reconciled to the world, as if there were some fault or lack in Him. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself. The best works of human ingenuity could not do it. Neither could the profoundest grief and regret. Neither could any reenactment or imagining what it would have been like had you been there when they crucified our Lord. So it is here that we come to the heart of the mystery, the divinest irony: only the Son of God pierced through and murdered could forgive those who pierced and murdered Him. God accepts the capital sentence, the verdict imposed upon Him by His pathetic creatures. He takes the blame that we so often put upon Him, and He dies for us; for you and me; for this entire world. This is love.
So, beloved, “stay a while in the eclipse of the light, stay a while with the conquered One. There is time enough for Easter…The life of all on this day died. Stay a while with that dying” (Neuhaus, 2). Here, these three short days, are not simply three days in the history of the world; they are the history of the world. Time itself is bound up with these hours, and there—here—the life of the Christ is given for the life of the world. Stay and watch, for just a brief moment. The Resurrection is nothing if not the resurrection of the crucified one. It is not for nothing that St. John saw a “Lamb standing, as slain” (Revelation 5:6, ESV). Because He was slain, and by His blood He purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). And so we, too, find our home among this purchased people. “Here, through the cross, we have come home, home to the truth about ourselves, home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done. And now we know, or begin to know, why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good” (Neuhaus, 34).
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, 4/6/17