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Died and Was Buried. Good Friday Tenebrae 2017. Psalm 88, John 19:38-42

deposition raphaelGood Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)

April 14, 2017

“Died and was Buried”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

forgetfulness?

 

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?

(Ps. 88:8-14)

 

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.

 

Amen

 

SDG

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I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises

  1. I will sing my Maker’s praisesgerhardt

And in Him most joyful be,

For in all things I see traces

Of His tender love to me.

Nothing but His love could move Him

With such sweet and tender care

Evermore to raise and bear

All who try to love and serve Him.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

3.  Yea, so dear did He esteem me

That His Son He loved so well

He hath given to redeem me

From the quenchless flames of hell.

O Thou Spring of boundless blessing,

How could e’er my feeble mind

Of Thy depth the bottom find

Though my efforts were unceasing?

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

5.  All that for my soul is needful

He doth carefully provide,

Nor of that is He unheedful

Which my body needs beside.

When my strength cannot avail me,

When my powers can do no more,

Doth my God His strength outpour,

In my need He doth not fail me.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

6.  All the hosts of earth and heaven

Wheresoe’er I turn mine eye,

For my benefit are given

That they may my need supply.

All that’s living, all that’s growing,

On the heights or in the woods,

In the vales or in the floods,

God is for my good bestowing.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

7.  When I sleep, He still is near me,

O’er me rests His guardian eye;

And new gifts and blessings cheer me

When the morning streaks the sky.

Were it not for God’s protection,

Had his countenance not been

Here my guide, I had not seen

Any end of my affliction.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

9.  As a father never turneth

Wholly from a wayward child,

For the prodigal still yearneth,

Longing to be reconciled:

So my many sins and errors

Find a tender, pardoning God,

Chast’ning frailty with His rod,

Not, in vengeance, with His terrors.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

10. All His strokes and scourges truly

For the moment grievous prove

And yet, when I weigh them duly,

Are but tokens of His love,

Proofs that He is watching o’er me

And by crosses to His fold,

From the world that fain would hold

Soul and body, would restore me.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

11.  On this thought I dwell with pleasure;

For it granteth joy and peace.

Christ’s cross hath its time and measure

And at last will wholly cease.

When the winter disappeareth,

Lovely summer comes again;

Joy is giv’n for woe and pain

Who his cross in patience beareth.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

12.  Since, then, neither change nor coldness

In my Father’ love can be,

Lo, I lift my hands with boldness,

As Thy child I come to Thee.

Grant me grace, O God, I pray Thee,

That I may with all my might,

All my lifetime, day and night,

Love and trust Thee and obey Thee;

And when this brief life is o’er,

Praise and love Thee evermore.

–Paul Gerhardt, 1659

Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, Concordia, 1927.

Place Yourself Beside the Publicans. Luther

Luther-Predigt-LC-WBThe Gospel is spoken to those only who acknowledge their sins, and their sins they acknowledge when they repent of them. But this Gospel is of no use to the Pharisees, for they do not acknowledge their sins. To those, however, who do acknowledge them, and are about to despair, the Gospel must be brought…

Therefore, when you feel your sins gnawing at you, and feel your heart trembling and agitated, place yourself beside the publicans where they are standing. These are the very ones who shall receive the Gospel. Do so joyously, and say: “Oh God! It is thy word that says there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance, and that all the righteous and angels are to interpose and cover up sins. Now, Oh, God! I have come to this that I feel my sins. I am already judged. I need but the one Shepherd who seeketh me; and I will therefore freely venture on thy Gospel.”

It is thus that you come to God. You are already the sheep placed upon his shoulders. You have found the Shepherd. You are the piece of silver in the hand. You are the one over whom is joy in heaven in the presence of all the angels. We are not to worry, if we do not experience or feel this at once. Sin will daily decrease, and its sting will drive you to seek God. You must struggle against this feeling by faith, and say: “Oh God! I know thou hast said this, and I lean upon thy Word. I am the sheep and the piece of silver; thou the shepherd and the woman.”

You might say: Yes, this I will gladly do; but I cannot atone for my sins. I can render no satisfaction for them. Consider then the publicans and sinners. What good have they done? None. They came to God, heard his Word and believed it. Do the same.

Luther, Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity, Lenker, vol.2, p.65-66.Luther-Predigt-LC-WB

The Good News for Parents

May 20, 2015 1 comment

The Gospel for parents who fail.

http://www.mbird.com/2015/05/absolved-parenthood/

Better to Struggle With the Fear of God’s Wrath–Luther

MartinLutherIt is exceedingly difficult for the human heart to expect with certainty everything good of God and to appreciate all grace and mercy. Indeed, it is altogether impossible except through Christ the mediator. Coarse and impious hearts may be very strong and haughty at this point, bearing themselves hard in much conceit, and thinking that what they do is all very precious in the sight of God. Yes, they may do this until they come upon the peril and terror of death, brought about through the clear revelation of the Law; then there are upon all the earth no people more dejected and despairing. When their hour has come, they go down suddenly and no one can raise them up again.

36. Much better and safer and more comforting, therefore, is the state of those who are constantly striving and struggling with terror and fear of God’s wrath, and who are so afraid that when they hear the name of God mentioned the world becomes too strait for them. Just for these has this comfort been uttered; yes, for their sakes God has at all times declared the promise of his grace and of the forgivness of sins, and to that end has given his Son and all the good in the whole world, overwhelming it with blessings, in order that they, by all means, may learn to know his grace and goodness which, as Psalms 52 and 36 say, endureth continually, and reacheth unto the skies. The fact that a Christian lives and that he possesses a sound member is due solely to the visible grace and help of God. For the devil, in whose kingdom the Christians are, here upon earth, is such a wicked, malicious spirit that he aims at nothing else, day and night, than to murder and destroy them.

37. But however great, both in word and deed, God’s promise of grace is toward those that fear him, yet they cannot lift up their hearts and joyfully look upon God. They are still constantly harassed with anxiety and fear lest God may be angry with them on account of their unworthiness and the weakness which is theirs. If they hear an angry word from God, or recall or learn of some fearful example of God’s wrath and punishment, then they tremble and fear lest it strike them. The other class, on the contrary, who indeed should tremble before God, stiffly and proudly despise these things in their security, and comfort themselves with the carnal notion that God cannot be angry with them. Very difficult is it for the human heart to so balance itself that it will not become secure in success and prosperity, but remain humble, and again, in times of fear and misfortune, enjoy comfort and confidence toward God.

Martin Luther, Sermon on the Gospel for Pentecost, Church Postil

Prayer in Great Weakness of Faith

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Prayer in Great Weakness of Faith

Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

 

O Lord, I now experience it in truth, that not everyone has faith.  I believe, dear Lord, but help my unbelief!  You who would not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smoldering wick, O Jesus, You who sit at the right hand of God, intercede and pray for me, that my faith may not cease.  Be the beginner and the finisher of faith, wherewith I extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one.  Let me believe, even if I cannot see, and so be saved.  Amen.

(Johann Albinus, Pastor at Naumburg. d. 1679)

Infant Faith Prior To Baptism: The Lost Work of Johannes Bugenhagen

July 5, 2014 1 comment

Bugenhagen-keysA couple of months ago Logia (a Lutheran theological journal) published an article I wrote about the faith of infants prior to baptism.  Readers of this blog will be familiar with a lot of its content, but I’m grateful to Logia  and especially its editor, Rev. Aaron Moldenhauer, for publishing it and working to get it ready for print.  The article’s topic is one that I think needs wider exposure among Lutheran pastors.  First of all, it gives profound comfort for Christian parents who lose children prior to Baptism.  Secondly, it sheds light on theological controversies that have arisen among confessional Lutheran pastors in the past few years—in particular, the nature of infant faith and the question of infant communion.  Finally, it challenges us, through the example of one particular question in pastoral care, to evaluate the degree to which contemporary confessional Lutheran theological assumptions diverge from those of the first generation of the Reformation.

 

The article examines a little book by Johannes Bugenhagen, a reformer who was also Luther’s pastor at the church in Wittenberg.  The book, called On Unborn Children, seems not to have been widely known among Lutheran theologians in the last century or two.  In it Bugenhagen sets out an argument for infant faith and infant baptism against Anabaptist objections.  Then he turns to discuss the faith and salvation of infants which die before baptism.

 

Briefly, Bugenhagen argues that infants have the promise of salvation given to them by Christ when He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  On the basis of that word we are required to bring our infants to Christ in Baptism, since in Baptism Christ receives them and gives them faith and brings them into the kingdom of heaven.

 

But what happens to those who are not baptized?  Bugenhagen argues that the promise of Christ—“The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” still applies to unbaptized infants.  They are brought to Christ and offered to Him through the prayers of parents and the church.  And Bugenhagen’s contention is that such children, when they die prior to Baptism, are certainly saved and should be treated that way.  Bugenhagen’s view was apparently also the view of Luther, who appended his more famous“Comfort for Women who have had a Miscarriage” to Bugenhagen’s book.

 

Bugenhagen’s approach to the question comes as something of a surprise to some confessional Lutherans.  First of all it seems to imply that infants receive faith in Christ apart from the external Word, at least in the case of unbaptized infants.  And that view, that unbaptized infants receive faith apart from the means of grace in response to the prayers of the church, was not only the perspective of Bugenhagen but also stated explicitly by the great theologian of the age of Lutheran orthodoxy, Johann Gerhard (see his A Comprehensive Explanation of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, published by Repristination Press). 

 

Secondly, Bugenhagen’s approach seems largely unknown to confessional Lutheran pastors, who typically will point parents of unbaptized infants who die to the Word they heard while still in the womb instead of to the promise of Christ regarding little children and the efficacy of prayer.

 

Why does Bugenhagen’s book merit wider attention?  First of all because of the comfort it gives grieving parents.  Bugenhagen provides a certain comfort instead of a vague hope.  He doesn’t tell grieving parents “Your miscarried child might be in heaven because you went to church and had family devotions and they might have believed what they heard in utero.”  He says: “Your child is certainly with the Lord, because Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’  And you brought your little child to Christ in your prayers.  Besides this the church also interceded for your little one.  And the Holy Spirit prayed within you with inexpressible sighs.  And so your child was most certainly brought to Christ, who has promised that the kingdom of heaven belongs to infants who are brought to Him.”

 

Secondly, confusion about the nature of infant faith has been behind some theological controversy among Lutheran pastors in recent years.  Relatively recently some furor erupted on the internet as liturgically-minded, confessions-subscribing pastors argued about the validity of infant communion.  Neither party denied the reality of the faith of infants.  But the failure of some pastors to understand the reason the reformers did not institute infant communion has something to do with this lack of clarity on how infants receive the Word of God and faith in Christ.  According to Bugenhagen, infants receive Christ and the Gospel although they are not capable of being taught or understanding the contents of the Gospel.  They are received because Christ promises to receive them, not because they have the same capacity for a faith that is capable of self-examination as adult Christians.

 

Finally, it invites us to look at the ways in which contemporary confessional Lutheranism may be narrower than the Lutheranism of the reformers and of the period of orthodoxy.  Bugenhagen does not seem to understand the Smalcald Articles’ dictum No Spirit apart from the Word the same way many of us do.  Moreover, he ascribes a great deal more to the prayers of believers than many contemporary Lutherans seem to find comfortable.  Finally, his insistence that the purpose of theology is for the comfort of the afflicted consciences of believers challenges our tendency to simplify theology into slogans designed to easily identify heresy.

 

Bugenhagen’s book opens up a number of discussions it would be useful for confessional Lutherans to have.  But my main hope in writing the article was and is that his approach to the comfort of parents who have lost children before baptism would become more widely known among Lutheran pastors.

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