Died and Was Buried. Good Friday Tenebrae 2017. Psalm 88, John 19:38-42
Good Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)
April 14, 2017
“Died and was Buried”
You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of
But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
Around this time on that Friday almost two thousand years ago, Jesus was buried. Imagine. Someone had to climb up on the ladder and remove the nails from Jesus’ hands or wrists. As that man did so, He would have had to look into Jesus’ face. It would have been covered with blood from His wounds, covered with bruises.
After the nails were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph would have carried Jesus. Maybe they washed His body before they wrapped it in the linen sheet with the seventy-five pounds spices, myrrh and aloes.
They buried Jesus quickly and rolled a large stone in front of the door to the tomb.
And just like at our funerals, it seemed like it was all over. All that was left was loss.
We know that death is the way of this world. That doesn’t help it become easier when your mother dies, when your child dies. It doesn’t help that everyone dies when you are lying in the ICU in pain, dying, or sitting in the nursing home, wondering when death will come. If you have been sick and in pain for a long time, you may accept death simply because life has been too painful. But otherwise, we don’t want to die. We think of what else we wanted to do in this world.
When death comes we feel attacked, blindsided. We are right about being attacked, at least partly. Death doesn’t just happen, the way rust happens. Death comes from God. It is—judgment.
Many of the readings and Psalms tonight express this thought of being attacked by God. King Hezekiah, suddenly dying, says of God, Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end (Is. 38:13). Jeremiah mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, which has happened because God is punishing them for rejecting Him as their God. God is using the foreign enemies as His rod. Our pursuers are at our necks, says Jeremiah; we are weary and given no rest (v. 5). And the Psalm I quoted, Psalm 88, which we will sing in a moment, says, O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:14)
Those words remind us that the subject of the Scriptures, both old and New, is Jesus Christ. In them we can hear the echo of Jesus’ fourth word from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?
Jeremiah’s people were forsaken by God because of their unfaithfulness; they were cast away because they cast God away. And the same thing could be said of everyone whom God casts away, everyone He attacks, everyone He slays. Hezekiah was one of the good kings, and there weren’t many. The writer of Psalm 88 was Heman the Ezrahite, who was a grandson of Samuel the prophet, and was a prophet himself. Yet Hezekiah was a sinner; so was Heman the prophet, and so was Samuel, his father. Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you, says another Psalmist to God (143:2).
Yet God does enter into judgment with us, or so it seems. He casts us down and puts our mouths in the dust. We are struck with illness and the sentence of death. Our congregation becomes like Jeremiah’s Jerusalem: How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed! The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street…the tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst (Lam. 4:1, 4)…Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5:1-2). The families that once were members of this congregation are now the parishioners of congregations where the body and blood of Christ is not confessed, churches where infants are not baptized, or members of no churches at all. And those that are left no longer grow up in the house of God or are taught the Word. The day is drawing near, it appears, when there will no longer be Good Friday services here in this Church.
When we think about this, how do we not feel that God is striking us, attacking us because He is displeased with us? And like Hezekiah, Heman, or Jerusalem, are we righteous before Him that He should not judge us?
Let God be true and every man a liar, as St. Paul says. Or with the thief on the cross, let us say: We are getting the due reward of our deeds.
Then let us look away from our suffering, like the thief did, to Jesus. This man has done nothing wrong. There was no deceit in His mouth. He never displeased His Father. He never spoke lies. He is the man Psalm 24 speaks about:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of His salvation. (Ps 24:3-5)
Jesus’ hands are clean and so are His lips. His heart is pure. Even crucified, in great agony, as He is attacked by the Father and His soul is cast away, He says, “My God!” He trusts God not to forsake Him. He commits His soul, dying, into His Father’s hands.
Jesus is forsaken by God, attacked in His wrath, humiliated before His foes, brought about before bloodied, spit upon, dressed like a king. The Father gives Him into their hands, and allows them to have their way with Him, to crucify Him, to make Him die on a tree, of which the Law says, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He does not intervene to save His Son from receiving a portion with all sinners in death.
We come around again to Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus, and sealing the tomb.
You know why Jesus is ambushed and attacked by God. It is for you, to win God’s favor and grace for you. Even while God casts Him away like an unclean thing, Jesus goes on trusting His Father. He breathes out His soul in death and His last words are “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.” How thoroughly He trusts His Father with all that He is, even when His Father seems to hate Him, seems to not know Him! Makes Him suffer!
How pleased the Father is with His Son’s trust and obedience! How much He loves it!
He loves it so much that He is pleased with you and all who believe in His Son, believes that through His Son’s obedience He will be gracious to them!
We deserve suffering and death because of our sins. But God doesn’t give it to us because He hates us in His wrath and we are getting what we deserve. The Father no longer recognizes the sins of anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The Father is not stupid or kidding Himself. He knows our sins, but He also knows the ransom His Son paid to release us from God’s wrath against our sins. He will not lie or go back on His Word. It is, as the readings from Hebrews will soon say, Jesus’ last will and testament. It can’t be altered, and God is not a liar. He will not impute sin, count sin, to anyone who believes that Jesus has made payment for his sins. That means you, even with your weak faith.
Instead, He imputes His Son’s pure heart, His perfect, unfaltering trust, His holy obedience even to death, to all who believe in Jesus. That is His unfailing promise in your baptism, and in the Holy supper of His body and blood.
When we die and are attacked by God (so it seems), we are not being brought into judgment, dealing with a God who is going to destroy us in His wrath and never build us up again.
We are dealing with a God who counts us to have clean hands and a pure heart, who says of us, He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation.
We are dealing with the God who desires to build us up, to raise us again; that is why Hezekiah sang O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit…behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness, but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
Today He cast our sins behind our back. Jesus said, It is finished.
Psalm 88 asks: Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (that is, destruction?)
The answer is: yes. For today God’s beloved Son joins us in the tomb, among the dead, making it holy, a place of rest. When we lie down as Christians, we go with Jesus, who remains the eternal God, whose battle has ended, whose righteousness and victory will be revealed in us.