This sermon was preached by Chaplain Rev. Graham Glover CPT USARMY. Graham is a member of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and serves the soldiers of Fort Benning, GA.
IN NOMINE X JESU
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, we gather tonight in a barren sanctuary. The altar is stripped and no sacred vessels remaining. The atmosphere is muted, with noting festive or inviting about it. The music is subdued. The lights are dimmed and will become more so as the night continues. We left Maundy Thursday in silence. Tonight’s service began the same way. And we will leave this evening with nothing emanating from our lips. It is, as our bulletin notes, a service of darkness. Complete and utter darkness. For those who share our faith, there is no more solemn day of the year than this. It is literally a day of death. We refer to it is Good Friday, but nothing about it seems good. It feels miserable. It looks disturbing. And on its own, it most assuredly would have been the worst day in the history of creation.
For today a rabbi from the town of Nazareth was executed on a cross. He was mocked, beaten, spit upon, and ridiculed. He was treated like the dregs of society – classified an outlaw and heretic. But he wasn’t like most criminals of his time. He didn’t steal, cheat the Roman government of its taxes, murder, or incite riots. Nor were his words or actions heretical. He knew the Word of God – the Law and the Prophets, interpreting them with ease from the time he was a child. He was a man of peace, who proclaimed a message of Good News and hope to those who put their trust in him. He healed the sick, calmed the wind and rain, and raised the dead from the grave. He was, by all accounts, a phenomenal preacher, even when he taught in parables that many struggled to understand. He came from humble means. His father a carpenter. His mother the highest example of righteousness the Scriptures give witness to – beginning when she assented to a decree from the angel Gabriel and continuing through her son’s death and beyond. By any reasonable standard, this man was completely undeserving of today’s events. Yet this rabbi was betrayed by one of his closest confidants for a few pieces of silver. Afterwards, he demanded no immediate retribution be taken against this disciple. When asked by the high priest and local governor if he was who others proclaimed him to be, he answered: “You have said so”, all but ignoring the interrogation of these powerful men. The crowds, both religious and secular, demanded this man be crucified – the ancient Roman custom of capital punishment – a practice that was as inhumane and barbaric as one might suspect. It was pure torture, for hours on end. And the crowds were so determined that this miracle worker should die, that they assented to the freedom of a hardened criminal and revolutionary named Barabbas. The crowds’ anger was crystal clear, “Let him be crucified!” they shouted, “Let him be crucified!” They were so impassioned about this that they declared, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Struggling along his way to the place where he would be crucified, a location called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), he was struck with a reed and stripped of his clothes. His head, profusely bleeding because of a crown of thorns thrust violently upon it, must have been hard to lift as he cried out in darkness, shortly before breathing his last, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At which point the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Afterwards, his side was pierced with a spear, from which blood and water flowed. His death was real. Violent, dark, and contemptuous – this rabbi was no more. He was dead. The kingdom of God he promised appeared to be dead as well. And tonight as we gather, we recall this man’s death. We remember this day, in every agonizing detail. In its misery and solemnity, we remember. And still we call it good. We call his death good. Barbaric and horrific as it was, it remains in the language of our faith – good.
But what is it about today that is good? Can this death possibly be a good thing? And why are we followers of this man gathering tonight to remember these events? We’re not here simply to recall the miracles and sermons of this rabbi. We’re not here to extol him as our example to follow. He was undoubtedly a good and righteous teacher, but our faith is not based only on his teachings. For thousands of years God’s chosen race waited for him to appear. He was prophesied about from the moment our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden. Prophet and King alike anxiously anticipated what he would do. Through numerous trials and tribulations, the people of Israel looked forward to his arrival. And then he came. Born in a manger. Born without fanfare. Born without an earthly throne. His life defied so many expectations. His deeds continue to confound. And he died. He died like any other man. He died like a stricken, smitten, and afflicted apostate – rejected by all. He hung on a cross – with his Blessed Mother looking upon his frail and lifeless body – and we call it good.
Yes, the death of this man is good. It is good because as the apostle Paul notes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthian church, “for our sake he” [that is God] “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Were it not for the death of this man, our death would be permanent. When our lives on this earth are over, nothing else would remain. As for this world, we would have nothing to hope in, nothing to rejoice over, nothing to rely on – except our own failures and inadequacies. Our sin – our inability to perfectly keep the law of God – would ultimately warrant each and every one of us eternal death, eternal separation from God. This is why today is good. For the rabbi whose death we remember this day was no mere mortal. He was the Son of God. He is God himself, in the flesh. And he died. Yes, God died. He suffered and died on the cross. And this we celebrate. We celebrate the death of God. And it is good. It is, as this man said on this day, “Finished”.
Finished? Yes. Over? Not a chance. Here the words of Dr. Luther are appropriate: [We] “must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if ‘God’s death’ and ‘God died’ lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: ‘God died,’ ‘God’s passion,’ ‘God’s blood,’ ‘God’s death.’ For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God’s death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God.”
So who is this man? Who is this rabbi? Who is this one that died that we call the Son of God, nay, God himself? He is none other than the Christ – the promised Messiah of Israel. He is Jesus. He is our Savior. And his death has redeemed us all. His death has saved us from ourselves. His death means life – life eternal. So it is good. It is great. And on Sunday, it’s only going to get better. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Rev. Graham B. Glover
 Of the Councils and of the Church.