Saturday, April 19, 2014

Deep Thankfulness

I love our tradition of reading through the Passion of Christ and involving many members, and even the whole congregation, in this reading.  Pausing through the passages and singing many psalms and hymns that accentuate the themes of the Passion help us to all pause and reflect over the sober events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

But often a question comes up – as we pause and reflect – what are we to do?  Should this be a time of great remorse, of quiet introspection over one’s sins for which Christ had to go through such terrible suffering?  Should we re-enact the questioning, the ignorance, the fear and depression that the disciples felt as they watched the One they believed to be the Messiah actually die and be buried in a tomb?

Many traditions encourage this kind of honest reflection, even encouraging a season of penance to be sorry for all you did to cause this dark day to happen.  But we tend to not do so and, I believe for good reason.

Philippians 2:5-8 says   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

When Paul writes this, He is commanding the church at Philippi to have the same mentality that Christ had when treating others – especially those who cause you trouble in life – and especially those who are in the covenant of grace with you – those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ – those who are your fellow church members – and most likely those who are your family members as well.  He said that we are to have the same lowliness of mind, that we are to esteem others better than ourselves – that we are to esteem other’s lives and well being as more important than our own – and that we are to consider the interests of others as important, even more important, than our own.

We are to do this looking at Christ – considering what He did for us.  And so these verses remind us of what Christ did for us, of the attitude of love He had in doing so.  We are to recall His death not to feel guilty for His death, but to marvel at His love and sacrifice for us in that love by His death.

If Paul’s point was to make us feel bad for what Jesus had to go through for us, he would have continued by saying – “and so, you owe Him big time.  You should feel really bad and guilty for what He did for you.  You are worthless and yet Christ died for you.  I want you to meditate on that…” –
Instead, he follows up in vv9-11 with this –

9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In other words, what should we remember as we remember Good Friday?  We should remember all that Good Friday, all that His crucifixion and death and burial accomplished.  The emphasis becomes not on our sin, but on Christ’s victory – not on God’s wrath, but on the propitiation of that wrath by Christ, not simply on the atonement for our sin, but for the reconciliation that atonement accomplished for us in Christ.

Simply stated, every biblical meditation over the death of Jesus Christ must lead us to thankfulness – deep thankfulness – deep and profound thankfulness that spills over into unspeakable joy and a peace that passes understanding.  We practice this every time we participate together in the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day.  That is a celebration based on the remembrance of what took place yesterday, what is called Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper.

When Jesus had that meal, knowing it was His last meal with his disciples before the betrayal, the arrest, and the coming sufferings on the cross – Jesus said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  Listen to that closely again – “with fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

When He takes bread – the bread He will declare to be His body given for us – He does two things.  He gives thanks and He breaks the bread.  He gives thanks that His body is going to be broken.  He gives thanks that He is going to suffer and die – and He does so before the very ones that He is going to suffer and die for.

Hear the good news!  Jesus Christ is your Savior; He is the Savior of the World – and He loves being the Savior of the world.  Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world – and He loves being the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.  When we remember the death of Christ rightly, we are to join with Him in Eucharist – in Thanksgiving – in Joyful, overwhelming thankfulness.

Yes – the cost was terrible, enormous, dark – and yes, the One Who knew no sin took on sin for us – Yes Jesus Christ had to die to pay for our sins.  And Yes – Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured it all – and cried out “It is Finished” before He died.  What we just remembered was the greatest act of love the world has ever known.  What we are left with – is to receive this as a gift and to do so with great awe and with deep thankfulness.

The last two verses of Isaac Watts hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” bears out what is being said here.
Verse three reminds us of the great suffering Jesus experienced that day on the Cross.
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Which is followed by the Hymnist’s response – not a response of feeling really, really bad for what Christ had to go through.  Rather, overwhelmed at the great love of God and of our Savior, Jesus, he writes,

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

A service of worship on Good Friday is not to be a re-enactment of the sorrow which the disciples experienced that day because of their lack of understanding of the coming resurrection on first day of the week.  Nor is it to be used to make everyone feel bad that Jesus had to die for their sins.  It is to draw attention to the Passion of Christ, to the great and terrible price He paid out of His great and immeasurable love for us – for you.  And it is to create in us, recreate in us, and renew in us, great and deep thankfulness over what is ours, what is fully accomplished, and what is freely given without any constraints to feel guilty.  God so loved the world – and so welcome to life in Jesus Christ.

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