Good Friday (Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ)

Video of the meditations and hymn is here. The hymn is 447 in Lutheran Service Book. Here are the words of the hymn, which are in the public domain.

The First Word: What Do You Know?”

Luke 23:34

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

The first word: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). His cross carried by another. Multitudes mourning and lamenting Him, to whom Jesus says, “[D]o not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry” (Luke 23:28, 31)? Thieves on either side of Him; as promised, He is numbered among the transgressors. Naked and alone, while soldiers throw dice for His clothing and the insults of the people fall on His holy head.

In the midst of this chaotic and appalling scene of human blasphemy, Jesus speaks: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they didn’t. They could not see God bloodied and gasping for breath. They could not see their sin weighing Him down. But that is precisely the monstrous crime of sin-filled men and women: they could not and would not see God, because seeing might lead to believing. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11).

And what do you know? Do you know what you are doing? Do you know what your little biting remarks do to that person for whom Christ died? Do you know how your lustful glance degrades that daughter of Christ? Do you know that your bitterness over that perceived slight poisons every word you speak? Do you know how your lack of forgiveness mocks Christ’s death every bit as much as those crowds gathered before the spectacle of another crucifixion?

So Christ speaks: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And we don’t. We do not see others as blood-bought children of the living God. We do not behold Christ in them. We treat them as unworthy of the forgiveness which, just as undeservedly, God has freely bestowed upon us. The wood is dry, and we do things of which those crowds could not have conceived.

And so it is all necessary. The betraying and the denying. The handing over and the sentence of death. The bearing of the cross and the falling. The carrying of the cross by Simon, stained and soaked by the Savior’s blood. The weeping and lamenting, the crucifying, the gambling, the mocking, and the dying. All necessary, because you and I have no idea what we are doing. We have done it so long that it is our nature, and even when we know, we still do it. And the one who says, “Father, forgive them” provides the way by which that forgiveness is given. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can save people who don’t know what they are doing.

So, today watch and see and know. Listen to His words from the cross. Know that it is your sin on the shoulders of the crucified one. Know that His blood pools in the dust of this old world and flows in a saving stream to all corners of the earth. Know that He is God in flesh, dying for everything you have done and everything you are. And know that His first word from the cross will be His last word for you on the day when you stand before His Father: “Father, forgive them.” Because He knows what He is doing, and He does it for you.

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

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/9/20

The Second Word: Paradise”

Luke 23:43

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

The “good thief,” we call him. Tradition names him “Dismas,” from the Greek word for “right.” Mostly we think of him on Good Friday or when we’re arguing about whether people have to be baptized in order to be saved. (The answer to that question, by the way, is that if Jesus says you’re with Him, whether on the cross or in baptism, you are with Him.) Although this man hanging next to Jesus was neither good nor, probably, a thief, that’s how we characterize people, isn’t it? The rebel on the right is good; the one on the left is bad. As if we’ve forgotten that they’re both being crucified, which, except for Jesus, doesn’t happen because you’re “good.” Both of these men who are being crucified with Jesus are enemies of the Roman state, literally “evildoers,” probably insurrectionists like Barabbas. They are not nice or good, and this one confesses as much when he rebukes the other criminal: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41).

We call him good because he repents at the end and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into His Kingdom. And we all like happy endings. But we like happy endings if the bad guys get what they deserve, and the good guys are rewarded. Most of us do not like movies where, for instance, the murderer or rapist gets away. It offends our basic sense of justice. Perhaps we do not feel that way about this criminal because he is dying. He does not get to retire to some tropical island with the spoils of his crimes. And yet, Jesus promises him a tropical island of a sort. Or rather, he promises him something better: Paradise. The word that had come to apply to the Garden of Eden, that original paradise.

This criminal is the first one to be welcomed in after the crucifixion of Jesus. And that should offend our cosmic sense of justice. Or at least it should if we think of God’s forgiveness primarily in terms of good and bad. But, frankly, good people don’t need forgiveness. They just need a little help or guidance or coaching to channel their natural goodness. And we don’t want bad people forgiven; we want them punished (unless, of course, we are the ones caught red-handed; then we’re all for forgiveness). Now maybe we call him the good thief, not because he was good, but because he was better than the guy on the other side of Jesus. That, at least, gives us something to cling to, because we’re certainly better than all sorts of other people. I mean, we’re pondering Jesus’ crucifixion in the middle of a Friday afternoon!

But if you want someone with whom to compare yourself, don’t look to the left or the right. Look right in the middle. What do we have that we have not been given? What have we been given that we have not wasted or distorted or destroyed? By what standard will we put ourselves in the “good” category with the “good” thief? If you’ve lived up even to your own expectations and ideals, you’re doing a lot better than I am. The fact is, there’s only one who is good in this whole story, only one who is obedient, only one who is faithful, only one who is unjustly condemned. And if this is a story about good and bad, then on the one side of that line, there’s only Jesus; on the other, there is everyone else. The first criminal wants off the cross; he wants out of the suffering. The second criminal simply wants Jesus. He knows he should be right where he is, he knows what he deserves; perhaps he only hopes for some sort of servant’s job in Jesus’ new Kingdom. But Jesus claims him for His own. And so it is for you and me.

The cross to which this criminal is fastened is a mirror for us. He cannot move, he cannot amend his life, he cannot do better; there is no penance for him and he doesn’t even pray the Sinner’s Prayer. He can do nothing, so Jesus does everything. He asks for a minor favor from a king, and he is promised the unlimited favor of the King. He can give nothing, but Jesus gives everything.

“What power, O robber, led thee to the light? Who taught thee to worship that despised Man, thy companion on the Cross? O Light Eternal, which gives light to them that are in darkness! Therefore also he justly heard the words, Be of good cheer, not that thy deeds are worthy of good cheer; but that the King is here, dispensing favours. The request reached unto a distant time; but the grace was very speedy. Verily I say unto thee, This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise; because to-day thou hast heard My voice, and hast not hardened thine heart. Very speedily I passed sentence upon Adam, very speedily I pardon thee. To him it was said, In the day wherein ye eat, ye shall surely die; but thou to-day hast obeyed the faith, to-day is thy salvation. Adam by the Tree fell away; thou by the Tree art brought into Paradise. Fear not the serpent; he shall not cast thee out; for he is fallen from heaven. And I say not unto thee, This day shalt thou depart, but, This day shalt thou be with Me. Be of good courage: thou shalt not be cast out. Fear not the flaming sword; it shrinks from its Lord. O mighty and ineffable grace! The faithful Abraham had not yet entered, but the robber enters! Moses and the Prophets had not yet entered, and the robber enters, though a breaker of the law. Paul also wondered at this before thee, saying, Where sin abounded, there grace did much more abound” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture XIII, 31

Grace abounds. Jesus takes what He can get, and what He gets are criminals: adulterers, liars, thieves, fornicators, homosexuals, idolaters, bad parents, bad children, bad Christians. Welcome to Paradise. This is our Lord, crucified and bloody on a cross, and this is His Church, criminals all. This is our Lord, with the transgressors on the “bad” side of the line; this is His Church, altogether on the other side of the line. This is our Lord, risen and glorious among us to baptize, absolve, feed, and save. This is His Church, pure, holy, clothed in the white robe of His righteousness. Today, and every day, His promise stands: on a day when we will see Him no longer bloody and bruised, but still bearing the scars of our sin and His victory, He will say, enter into My eternal Paradise, in which is the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). He has granted us to eat from that tree, even Himself, and where He is, now and forever, is our paradise. For now, “May we in our guilt and shame still Your love and mercy claim, calling humbly on Your name: Hear us, holy Jesus” (LSB 447:5).

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

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/9/20

The Third Word: Sons and Mothers”

John 19:26-27

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

This is perhaps the strangest of the Words of Jesus from the cross, or maybe just the hardest to preach. There is no easy theological meaning to be had here. There is no easy analogy to be drawn for our own lives from the words of Jesus to His Mother and the beloved disciple. It is perfectly orthodox to speak of Mary being the mother of the Church, since she is the mother of Christ, whose body is the Church. But it is not a small leap to draw that conclusion from Jesus’ Words to Mary and John, because then we also have to make John into an analogy for us. Maybe, in some way, but it’s not a direct path to get there. So why does John record these words for us? Is it simply that Jesus fulfilled the entire Law and here He completes His Fourth Commandment obligations to His Mother? Without a doubt, Jesus does so. But is that all?

Perhaps it would help to consider the fact that Mary shows up only one other time in John’s Gospel; both here and there she is called, simply, “His mother.” The first time is at the wedding in Cana, where Mary seems to have something to do with the wedding reception. Perhaps the man and woman getting married are her relatives. We do not know; but we do know that Mary feels enough of an obligation that she tells Jesus, “they have no wine” (John 2:3). But before Jesus does the first of His Signs, He does what He often does in the Gospels: He distances Himself from Mary. He calls her “woman,” not “mother,” and He asks her what it has to do with Him. My hour is not yet (2:4).

In other Gospels, Jesus rebukes His Mother for not knowing that He had to be about the business of His Father in His Father’s House (Luke 2:49); He says, when His Mother and brothers are looking for Him, “Who is My mother? And who are My brothers? And He stretched out His hands over His disciples and said, ‘See, My mother and My brothers; for whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, this one is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:48-50); later, when a woman shouts from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You sucked!” Jesus says, “On the contrary, blessed are the ones hearing the Word of God and keeping it” (Luke 11:27-28).

Why this distancing? Why all these words, which sound so harsh to our ears? Is it, perhaps, that even Jesus’ Mother has no extraordinary relationship with her divine Son? That she must now come to Him, not by her blood, but by His? Not even Mary, the bearer of God in the flesh, comes to the Father except through the Son. There is no exceptional grace for salvation granted to her. Humanly speaking, of course, there is no one closer to Him. Humanly speaking, she is blessed above all others, because God chose no one else from whom to take human flesh. He lived for nine months only in her womb. It is from her that He received His human DNA, and through her that He is descended of David, Moses, Abraham, and Adam. As Christ prays through the Psalmist: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Psalm 22:9-10).

She is truly, as all Christians confess, the Mother of God. And now, when His hour has come, Jesus makes provision for His Mother. He provides for her well-being by His beloved Apostle, whether because He has no other physical relatives, or because His brothers do not yet believe in Him. And that is grace for this life, for both Mary and John. And yet, more is necessary for them, and for us.

The hour has come for Jesus to complete what was begun at His conception in the womb of Mary: to suffer under the weight of her sin, and John’s sin; your sin, and mine. It is just as Simeon said, in a strange blessing: he said to Mary of her Son, “See, this One is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a Sign that is spoken against—and a sword will pierce through your own soul also—in order that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). Here, before the Sign of her Son on the cross, Mary’s broken heart is healed by the blood that flows from the cross. Here, John receives a mother and Mary receives a son. Here John sees the love by which His Lord and friend loved him and the whole world. From that hour, John took Mary to his own things. Because from that hour, Jesus was related to them not only by blood and friendship, but as the sacrifice for their sin, which He finished in His own body, taken from His Mother. For Mary and for John; for you and for me, the blood and the water poured from the Lord’s side. “He who has seen it has borne witness, and his witness is true, and that one knows that he speaks truly, in order that you may believe” (John 19:35). We see here that Jesus has distanced Himself only to draw all people to Himself.

Mary was granted the grace to be the Mother of God, and John was granted the grace to bear witness to the glory of Christ on the cross; but it is all—His conception, birth, life, and death—all so that you will have the assurance of faith; all so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, have life in His Name (John 20:31). As freely as Jesus gives John a mother and Mary a son, so freely the Father gives you His Son to whom you may cling in the face of your sin and your death. And freely He has given you the Church as your mother, through whom He nourishes you and feeds you with holy Word and holy Sacrament. And neither the Son nor the Mother will fail you, even unto death. You have Christ’s Word on it.

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

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/9/20

The Fourth Word: Forsaken”

Matthew 27:46

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

This is the heart of darkness. Though the entire mystery of the crucifixion is beyond us, we usually don’t have too much trouble with “Father, forgive them,” or “Behold, woman, your son,” or “It is finished.” Though there is deep theological water beneath “I thirst” and “into Your hands I commend My spirit” and “you will be with Me in paradise,” none of them push us to past the point of understanding the way these words do: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

What is happening here? How can we understand Jesus, one person, who has a divine nature and a human nature, crying out to God, the Father, with this anguished voice? How can God abandon God? And in what way is this true, even, without tearing the natures apart, tearing Jesus Himself apart? There have been many attempts made at understanding this word. Some will go back to Psalm 22 and say Jesus prays the word as only an apparent abandonment. Some will go all the way to the other side and say that God the Father and God the Son are apart from each other at this point. There are probably hints of truth in both directions. But, in the end, we are not given any glimpse into the inner nature of the Holy Trinity, into the inner relationship between Father and Son, on the cross. The answer to our questions is as hidden from us as the Father is silent before the cry of Jesus.

This is the heart of darkness: Jesus, the eternal Son of God in flesh, takes everything by which God might rightly forsake and abandon us, and He takes it to its extreme and utter end in death and hell. He does not suffer only the pain of crucifixion, which is enough in itself. He suffers the pain, in His own flesh, of being the Man forsaken of God. We know only a little of it, when, like Job, we pray but we hear no answer from God. We wonder why it seems that God is silent and inactive, far away from us in His own heaven.

But Jesus faces that silence in its fullness, bearing the sin of every person altogether. And He faces it without sin in Himself. He does not, as we do, grumble, complain, doubt, despair. Only Jesus is able to hold together in Himself both the abandonment of sinners to punishment and condemnation and an undimmed faith in His Father. He does in the face of the unbelief of His people, as in Isaiah 49. In spite of the promise of God that Yahweh has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted, “Zion said, ‘Yahweh has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me” (49:13-14). But Jesus believes the Word: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (49:15-16). There, where the nails run through Jesus’ hands, God engraves His people forever.

But the forsaking, the abandoning, the dereliction is not the final word. In the utmost faithfulness, the utmost believing as a man, Jesus isn’t only abandoned by the Father, but He abandons Himself to the Father. He is the fulfillment of Job’s words: Though He slay Me, I will wait in hope for Him (Job 13:15). He believes according to Psalm 37: “The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. Yahweh will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial” (Psalm 37:32-33). He believes according to Psalm 71: “Do not…forsake me when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together and say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him” (Psalm 71:9-11).

And, above all, He believes according to Psalm 16:“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). As Peter preached on Pentecost, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him…, For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. … Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on the throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:23-25, 27, 30-31). The Son who is abandoned remains the beloved Son of the Father and the One who cries out in dereliction cries out “My God.”

The man Jesus is not saved from death by being saved from dying. God does not take Him down from the cross. He actually dies. Jesus is saved from hell and corruption and abandonment, not by avoiding death, but by resurrection from the dead. In fact, in the end, this is the only answer that Jesus is given, and it is the only answer that we, who have been joined to His death by baptism, are given. This world means death, and except for those who will be alive at His coming, whose bodies will be transformed then, death is the only way out of this world. But death—specifically, the death of His Son—is also the means by which God overcomes the world. In the darkness of the shadow of death, in the silence of the Father, still, “You who fear Yahweh, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from Him, but has heard, when He cried to Him” (Psalm 22:23-24).

Here Jesus is most fully our substitute. Just as He was led into temptation, so that we can trust the promise of God when we pray “Lead us not into temptation,” we trust the promise that we will not be forsaken, because He was. And so it was told by Him to us, and it will be told by us to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that He has done it (Psalm 22:30-31). He has done it. Thanks be to God.

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

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/8/20

The Fifth Word: Thirsting”

John 19:28

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

“After this, Jesus, knowing that now everything had been finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28). Everywhere, in all sorts of ways, people and businesses are making the claim that they can satisfy your thirst. From bottled water to soft drinks to beer, they all promise that your thirst will be quenched and your desire slaked. But it’s not just various liquids; it is also any other thing that people might want. Do you want money? Get rich quick with this easy, 5-step program. Buy a lottery ticket that could be worth millions. Gamble away a few dollars because you just might hit the jackpot. Do you want sex? It’s advertised everywhere. Get it without anyone knowing, anonymously, without consequences. Do you want higher self-esteem, a better marriage, more obedient children, a more relevant church? The books and the programs and the teachers and the preachers are out there, as easily found as Googling your desired keyword.

But who can stop with the first jackpot, the first score, the first anonymous encounter? Who has found the single, necessary parenting or marriage handbook? Who, once they become dissatisfied with their current church, stops with the next or the next or the next? No, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13). If you’ve desired any of those things, you know it’s true. They will slay you before they satisfy you. And that is because they were never meant to be ends in themselves, all our desires and thirsts. They all, every one of them, point beyond themselves to another end, another goal. If it is a sinful action, it is because humans or devils have distorted one of God’s good gifts and turned it into an addiction. And another word for addiction is idolatry, because it’s the one thing you can’t live without, the one thing that keeps you going, the one thing that may, if it is not destroyed, destroy both your body and your soul.

We thirst, and we are not satisfied. We sin, and our sin only makes us thirstier, like drinking salt water. And so, Jesus takes on our thirsty flesh; He takes on our thirsty soul, and He pours out His eternal, quenching life from the cross. He lets the life drain out of Him, all the way to the end. And then, when it was all finished, the One who created water, whose Spirit hovered over the face of the waters, said, “I thirst.” The One who said, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14), said, “I thirst.” And all they gave Him was sour wine on a hyssop branch, which could barely hold the sopping sponge. All they gave Him was mockery, and abandonment, and nails, and thorns. All we gave Him were our dry, cracking, blasphemous lives.

And in return, He gave us water in our deserts. It is no mirage, it is no heat-induced hallucination. It is the very life of God in flesh, poured out onto swollen tongues and into distended souls. He thirsts for you. He speaks through the psalmist, “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6). He stretched out His hands to you, suspended by nails to a Roman cross. And because He thirsted for us, giving us Himself, washing us in the water of His baptism, giving us His Word to drink, quenching our thirst with His own holy Blood, we say with the psalmist, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:2).

And He satisfies the thirsty soul, the thirsty body. “[H]e said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (Revelation 21:6). Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1); come to the living waters that flow from the side of your God. Come and drink, and be satisfied forever. “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), Jesus says. If anyone thirsts, believing in Me, let him come to Me and drink; as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water,’” (John 7:38).  Which means that the Lord on the cross, whose living flesh has been opened with a spear, has handed over His Holy Spirit like water to us, so that we believe Him, and are bold to bring other thirsty sinners to the water of life.

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). We are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, who have “washed [our] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb…[we] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore…For the Lamb in the midst of the throne,” the Lamb who was slain, “will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us and all the saints] to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:14, 16-17).

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

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/9/10

The Sixth Word: Finished”

John 19:30

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

“When, therefore, He received the sour wine, Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ and after bowing [His] head, He gave up the Spirit” (John 19:30). It is finished, but it is not over. Have you ever been at a funeral and, as the pall bearers carry the casket out to the hearse, you think, “It’s over”? Depending on your relationship to the person who has died, that thought can be about as wrenching as it gets. At funerals, if we hear the words, “It is finished,” we think, “It’s over.” But not at Jesus’ death; not at the cross. This is no funeral for Jesus. This is no helpless surrender, no philosophical reflection on not going gently into that good night. This is His coronation. This is His victory march in front of all His enemies, as He defeats the devil, swallows our sin, and breaks the jaws of death forever. It’s finished, but it’s not over.

If it was over at the cross, we should not be here. Who celebrates a god’s death two thousand years on? If it was over at the cross, we would just be adding insult to the injury of our sin, and creating some sort of morbid guilt-trip. Which is what some people think we do. It’s what some Christians think we do, which is why they skip Good Friday and jump straight to Easter. It’s why we don’t like to see the Body of our Lord on the cross. We’ve had enough of the mourning, and now we want the happy thoughts that do not pierce us underneath our new suits and pretty dresses.

But we are not mourning the death of Jesus! We rightly mourn our sin, which put Him there; we rightly mourn the actions we have done and left undone, the sins against God and against our wives and husbands, parents, children, and friends. We mourn that, and rend not our garments but our hearts. But we do not mourn His death. Jesus did not mourn His own death; He said to the women of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). Despite The Passion of the Christ, the Father did not shed tears over Jesus’ death, as if Father and Son were acting out some macabre drama. Jesus says, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).

What the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit grieved was the horror of what humans could do. But it was not as if they were surprised. They were conspiring, underneath the horror, to deliver you and me from ourselves, from the fact that we could nail our God to a cross. Adam and Eve were ashamed at their own nakedness, but we have no shame before the nakedness of God. As St. Melito of Sardis said, “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! The Lord is disfigured and he is not deemed worthy of a cloak for his naked body, so that he might not be seen [and] exposed. For this reason the stars turned and fled, and the day grew quite dark, in order to hide the naked person hanging on the tree, darkening not the body of the Lord, but the eyes of men. 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” (On the Pasch, 96-98).

All we can see is blood and death and a helpless hanging. All we can see is what is finished, what is over. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Well, it is finished, but it is not over. After this victory on the cross, there is resurrection on the third day, and a life that cannot die. It is not over; there is a broken but glorious Body to eat, and shed but living Blood to drink.  It is not over; there are so many who do not yet share in this life.

It is not over; so we are here, mourning our sin before a crucified God, but only because He is resurrected. Only because the Lamb standing as though it had been slain (Revelation 5:6) is alive forever. Only we, who know the resurrection and the empty tomb, can rejoice in that death and in that cross. Only we, who know that crucifixion, can rejoice in the resurrection. We have no God but Him who was and still is crucified and resurrected. The scars remain on His glorified and ascended Body; His work is finished, complete.

But it is not over. Because the day has not yet come when we have seen those scars and that Lord; when we have fallen on our faces like Thomas and cried out “My Lord and my God!” when our death-marked bodies have been raised by the power of the One who bought us with His blood: by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, whose Name we bear. It is finished, but it is not over.

In that Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 – Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/9/20

The Seventh Word: Into Your Hands”

Luke 23:46

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

“Father, into Your hands I entrust My Spirit.” The final Word of the obedient and completely faithful Son. Jesus finishes His life as He had begun it: the helpless Son of God at the mercy of the Father. That is not to say that it was against His Will. As the eternal Son, His Will was united with His Father’s and the Spirit’s. And that unified will was the salvation of the world. But in a body like ours, He does what sinners never do: submit to the holy will of God. The one who is in the sinful flesh does not submit to the Law of God; indeed he cannot. The one in the flesh is hostile to God. And the cross is all that hostility channeled into whip and thorn and nail. But it is far more than that: it is the willing death of God in the flesh, rather than that the enemies of God be crushed by His wrath. It was the will of God to crush Him, Isaiah says, and Jesus submitted to that will so that sin would be condemned in His flesh instead of ours.

We fear that to entrust ourselves to God will be the end of us. We do not fear, love, and trust God above all things; we would rather take our chances with us in control. To entrust ourselves to another means to believe that that one has our good at heart, and the doubt always lurks at the back of our minds that perhaps God does not have our good at heart. Perhaps His will is not good for us. We start to doubt that He is working all things for the good of those who love Him, and so we hedge our bets, take out some insurance on our futures, try to hold back or hide our deepest selves from the bright illumination of the Law. We try to keep one eye on the things of this world and one eye on God, but we can’t do it. The lusts of our flesh, the lusts of our eyes, and the pride of life always turn us to this world. And the world knows how to dress herself to kill. Everything around us whispers in suggestive tones: Did God really say? What if God does not come through? What if God does not make good on His promises? What if death really is the end?

Not Jesus; not this Son. Not even on the cross, confronted with certain death. No, He knows that His prayer, prayed centuries earlier by David, will be answered: “In you, O Yahweh, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! … Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Yahweh, faithful God. … I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become a broken vessel…But I trust in you, O Yahweh; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…O Yahweh, let me not be put to shame” (cf. Psalm 31:1, 17). And He is not put to shame; God does not let His Anointed One see decay. He is vindicated, and the proof is the third day, when there is no one in His tomb. He became a broken vessel, pouring out His life for this dying world, and God was faithful.

Do not doubt, but believe. To entrust yourself to God will be the end of you, but that is good news, because it is the end of your sinful nature, the end of your death, the end of your weakness and unbelief. You are in Christ, crucified with Him, buried with Him by baptism, and raised to new life in Him. The Spirit of Christ dwells in you, and He is the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead. Christ Himself, on the cross, entrusted you to His Father. In Him, every single night, and on your last night, and on the world’s last night, you can say with the confidence of the faithful Son, “Father, into Your hand I entrust my spirit,” and know that you are safe with Him. He cannot fail you; He will not fail you. He sees you in His Son, and you will not be ashamed. On that great Resurrection Day, the Day of the Lord, your grave, too, will be empty. The God who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, by the Spirit who dwells in you. And your life will end as it began: at the holy mercy of your Father in heaven, through His crucified and resurrected Son.

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, 4/8/20

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