The liturgy for Good Friday that we follow is called the Tenebrae service, which is the service of darkness. There are different ways it can be arranged. A traditional one of the seven words from the cross. We have in the past followed something like the final stations of the cross. This year, looking at Luke whose year it is, we arranged it as a triptych. The above is my hack attempt at that.
The meditations look at what fails us, and then what hope is available in each scene. In the Garden of Gethsemane, it is personal failures. Failures of friends and associates and even the temptation of the self of our human nature. The hope is that prayer is always there. And God answers prayer. Maybe not how we would like, but he walks with us through the trials. The trials themselves are the failure of our institutions. Knowing our personal failures we invest our hope in groups. These too fail us, at exactly the time we need them. The hope is that while we often run from the truth, God brings the Truth out, even when we don’t like it. And it is the Truth that wins. And that points to the center panel, the crucifixion. There we find our real hope.
Maundy Thursday is the night the Christians remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Liturgically we celebrate it, and then the altar is stripped. The service does not really end, no “Now Let Us Depart in Peace”, no benediction, no closing hymn. It continues with Good Friday. If follows to the garden and the trial and the cross and the grave. It finishes on Easter Morning.
The meal is a Passover meal, it is also as it is called a “last supper”. It is a reading of the last testament of Jesus. And what Jesus grants us is himself. He gives us his righteousness. He gives us unity with God. And he does this by giving us his body and blood with the bread and wine. This sermon is a reflection on that great miracle.
This Sunday is one of those pageant days. The start of Holy Week starts with a palm parade into the sanctuary for us today to the strains of All Glory Laud and Honor ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/442 ). But then with the readings it takes a turn toward the end of the week with a full reading of Luke 23 which is the trials before Herod and Pilate, the cries of the mob, and the crucifixion. At least the way we do it the hymns are key. The Pomp of Palms and the cries of Hosanna give way to the tumult of the streets and Pilate’s vain weaseling captured so well in No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/444 ). After the crucifixion Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/435 ) sing what has happened for us. And as we turn to go back out into the world, or to walk our way through Holy Week once again, we remember the end point with Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/441 ). “Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God thy power and reign.” I’ve left in the recording snips of those hymns. It really is a liturgical day that is tough to capture just in a recording. We are recreating the week in an hour. The sights, and sounds and emotions.
Something I have been struggling with thematically with this day is how to preach it. Growing up this was just Palm Sunday. The Passion was for Thursday and Friday. But given the loss of piety, the reality was that many people would skip from the Triumphal entry to Easter Resurrection without even breezing past Calvary – a tragedy. So the reading was smashed into today. But what joins the Palms and the Passion? That is something I’ve been searching for. And I think this year I understand something I didn’t in previous years. It is the mob. Even more acutely in Luke, both are the will of the mob. Both are expressions of desire revealing the division of the ages. I’m leaning a bit on Rene Girard and his mimetic desire here. But it is a story captured fully in scripture. And it is one I see played out more and more. And it is the choice we have. He’s the King. We can crucify our desires and accept his grace, or we can let the mob rule. Anyway, I don’t know how well this walks outside of the liturgical framework, but I like it.
I joked around this week that passage – the wicked tenants – is Jesus the populist. It is Jesus reminding and urging “the people” to pick a new leadership class. The Chief Priests and the scribes have abused and killed the prophets, and they are going to take the son outside the vineyard and kill him too. And they are doing this because they think it will be theirs. That they will be able to substitute their blueprints – their laws – for the law and action of God. God is dead, so it is all ours. (Nietzsche well before his time.)
But as with all such plans, including our modern day supermen, they run into a problem. The Owner will come and kill them. The Owner has planted a new Rock a Cornerstone in Zion. And that rock will not be removed. And that Rock is Christ crucified. There is always a vineyard. Are you in it? It is given by grace, received in faith and abundantly fruitful. And the leadership of it does not hoard the fruit. It does not seek to substitute its own blueprints for the vineyard with God’s. Don’t trip over the stone, build on it.
The text is the Prodigal Son, so you already know it. It is the gospel. Nothing can separate us from the Love of the Father.
But this sermon wants to meditate on the text in a little different way. How, if we haven’t been conditioned to hear it as we have been, would we hear it? What did the original hearers think? (I think they would have jumped at the two brothers theme. Jesus doesn’t go where an OT raised person would expect. More in the sermon.) What would someone in our West hearing this for the first time think? (I think this might be more common that we know. And I think it would be the absolute Sovereignty of the Father in the story. And the prideful natures of the sons. Again, more in the sermon.) Hearing it new today, yes, it is a parable about love and grace, but it is also a parable about pride. The only thing that separates us from the Love of the Father is our pride. But He is sovereign. And how he has done things, was necessary. And he doesn’t consult us. Do we humble ourselves, or would we rather be outside the party and the love?
Any fat, dumb and happy preacher (like yours truly) should shy away from preaching on suffering. But that was the essence of the text in front of us. And the Old Testament text basic said don’t chicken out. So, this is my attempt to proclaim the Word in regards to the role of suffering in the world and in the life of the Christian. I believe this to be right and true. I also believe it to be full of hope.
This might be the first sermon I’ve written that I think needs a soundtrack. If we were a big megachurch, I’m sure it could have been a multimedia presentation, but that is not us. We just depend on the spoke Word and the hymnbook. The Word this day is one of the mot plaintive passages in scripture – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you…”. The passage is a dance between the necessity of the path that Jesus walks, and the desire of love. And a certain type of pop song, one not made much these days I think, hits all the right chords. The sermon explores those songs and their feelings, and how that represents the weakness and risk of the gospel – a God who ain’t too proud to beg. Who longs to hold you again.
There is always a bit of a frisson when I have a text with Satan in it. Giving Satan a voice from the pulpit always feels like crossing a boundary. There is a bit of that in here. But the main contemplative point is how Law and Gospel are connected with an “and”. In this world you don’t get one without the other, although that is always the temptation. Satan’s temptations are to break the relationships that bind and order our existence. Sometimes that temptation is straight up to our sinful nature. Sometimes that testing is to the power of the ring. But however they express themselves, they are always a rebellion against both the grace and the order of God. He has a way that He desires us to walk. When we tell the Spirit, sorry, I don’t like that desert or those 40 days, we’ve gone off the path. This sermon meditates on how Jesus walked it for us (hence the closing hymn), and bids us to follow.