Home > Holy Week > When it All Falls Apart. Good Friday, Tenebrae 2015

When it All Falls Apart. Good Friday, Tenebrae 2015


grunewald crucifixion isenheim altarpieceGood Friday—Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 1

April 3, 2015

“When it all falls apart.”

Iesu iuva

How lonely sits the city

That was full of people!

How like a widow she has become

She who was great among the nations!

She who was a princess among the provinces

Has become a slave.

 

The city is a charred ruin, smoking, full of ashes. The walls have been broken down. Dead bodies lie scattered on the streets, cut open by swords, burned with fire, emaciated by hunger. Here and there someone passes by wailing over lost loved ones, covering their nose to escape the stench. And at the top of the hill overlooking the city one fire still burns. The pride and joy of Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord, is on fire. The enemy soldiers have stripped it of all its precious things—its gold and silver, its furnishings. They have marched into the holy place, into the very presence of the Lord, and desecrated the sanctuary. Now they are gone, leaving behind the fire and smoke as the temple of the Lord burns to its foundations.

This is what Jeremiah is writing about in Lamentations. It is hard for us to grasp how terrible a fall the city of Jerusalem endured in the days around 500 B.C. It was one of those things that no one believes will happen until it does, one of those things that we imagine God won’t allow.

Jerusalem was a princess, a queen among cities. She had been honored by the God of the whole earth when He put His temple there. This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it (Psalm 132:14).

What happened? The princess has become a slave, a mourning widow. Her streets are deserted and her glory has departed. Her young men have been massacred and taken away as slaves. The women have been carted off. The city is a smoldering ruin. How did this happen to God’s most-favored city?

The princess among the provinces became a harlot. The queen became a whore. Jerusalem multiplied sin and rebellion against God. She turned aside to false gods and walked in the ways that seemed right in her sight instead of obeying the law of the Lord.

Jerusalem sinned grievously

Therefore she became filthy.

All who honored her despise her

For they have seen her nakedness.

She herself groans

And turns her face away.

 

Her uncleanness was in her skirts

She took no thought of her future,

Therefore her fall is terrible

She has no comforter.

“O Lord, behold my affliction

For the enemy has triumphed.”

 

This is what happens when we receive the wages for our sins. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6). Dear Christians, we never get away with our sins. We always reap their bitter harvest. The Lord our God is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. The Lord in the midst of Jerusalem, in our midst, is a just and righteous God. He does not play favorites. When His own people sin and are unfaithful to Him, He judges them, even if they are called by His name and have His holy things in the midst of them.

The destruction of Jerusalem is a picture of our own personal calamities that come upon us because of our sins. Our lives fall apart. Our plans fail. Our spouse leaves. We are laid at the gates of death. How often do these things happen because we have rebelled against the Lord? Even when they happen with no apparent sin of ours, there are always sins in us which God must chasten.

And what happens in individual lives because of sin often happens among groups of people; churches come under God’s judgment too. Didn’t it strike a little close to home to hear

The roads to Zion mourn

For none come to the festival

All her gates are desolate

Her priests groan…

 

Doesn’t that sound more than a little familiar? Why are the pews vacant on the festival days of the church year? Why do we not hear the sounds of children in this once burgeoning congregation? Why do we bury so many and baptize so few? Can it be that God’s judgment is not in these things at all?

And when God’s judgment comes, the false gods which we turned to for comfort become useless. They provide no relief from the punishment of God. The friends and helpers we looked to desert us or turn out to be our enemies.

But the visitations of God’s judgment that come upon us in this life are not the greatest things to fear. When we experience judgment from God in this life He is calling us to repentance. Though our fall may be grievous there is still hope, because our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103).

What is to be feared is the final judgment of God that will come upon unbelievers and hypocrites, that is, false believers. Then there will be no more comfort, only weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the fall is irreversible. God will no longer comfort or restore but cast away forever those who did not repent and believe in Christ.

That indeed is the due, proper, and just reward for our sins—not only for our conscious rebellion against God but for the sin in which we were born and which dwells within us. Not simply to have our plans and pleasures taken away for a time, but to be forever cast away and rejected from God’s face. That is truly what we deserve for having served other gods like a harlot. And that is most certainly what we will receive for our sins unless we repent—an eternity of desolation, terror, grief, and pain with no hope of relief.

When the lights are put out at this Tenebrae service, it is a picture of the extinguishing of hope that is the due reward for our sins.

Is it nothing, all you who pass by?

Look and see

If there is any sorrow like my sorrow

Which was brought upon me,

Which the Lord inflicted

On the day of His fierce anger.

 

What can we say to this?

The Lord is in the right

For I have rebelled against His Word.

 

But our God does not forsake us in the day of our calamity, in the day of desolation, in the day of judgment, the way that false gods do. When we are soiled and unclean like a harlot, the Lord does not abandon us.

Instead He becomes like we are. Our misery and sorrow becomes His misery and sorrow. He proposes marriage to us in the depths of our destruction, at the bottom of our fall.

Look and see

If there is any sorrow like my sorrow

Which was brought upon me,

Which the Lord inflicted

On the day of His fierce anger.

 

Jesus has taken those words out of our mouths and put them in His own. The terrible sorrow of being forsaken by God, of being swallowed up by the darkness, is His. He redeems us from the pit of despair and hell by going down into it Himself. He loves us when we are ruined. He takes our ruin upon Himself.

As the lights are put out during the Tenebrae service, we are reminded that it is not we who are brought to nothing and destroyed by our sins. It is our Lord Jesus. We are not forsaken to the darkness of hell. He is, when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

He is brought to nothing and destroyed for our sins. He is ruined for us, and then raised from the dead for us.

When it all falls apart, this is what holds us together, or better, what brings us back from the dead.

We are all falling apart. We are dying. The ugliness of sin can’t be hidden forever. Sooner or later it shows itself in all of us—in the lines in our faces, in the aching of our bones. We can’t escape the judgment of God. It catches up to us, and shows us to be what we are—sinners doomed to death.

But in the midst of chastisement for our sins, in the midst of our lives falling apart, in the midst of our dying, the broken, ruined form of Jesus on the cross gives us hope. A living hope that does not perish, spoil, or fade.

The Lord has taken our destruction as His own. His light was put out. Then His invincible life overcame the darkness. His righteousness overcame our sin. He rose from the dead.

Everything is not going to get better in this world. This world is judged, condemned, and this judgment comes over us too.

But life is ours in the midst of this judgment. When everything is falling apart, we belong to the one who has already gone to the lowest depths, the deepest darkness, and risen into eternal brightness and joy.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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