Lent Wednesday 4A, Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Beneath the Cross of Jesus
Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lent seems like such a gloomy time of year. Certainly, the weather doesn’t help; even though Easter is very late this year, the weather we’ve had this Lent has been bad enough that it’s not much change from years when Easter was earlier. There’s been lots of snow, ice, cold, and just generally miserable weather. I know I’m not alone in hoping for nicer, more clement weather. But it’s not just the weather. There’s a deeper sadness of Lent, and I don’t mean depression at the thought of giving up candy or soda or chocolate or whatever. Lent is a time of contemplation, of acknowledging our sin and brokenness and how far we have strayed, and returning to the Lord our God. It is a time of remembering the agony of Jesus’ death on a cross for our sake. The texts we read in church, the hymns and songs we sing, all remind us of our fallen status and the gory death of our Lord Jesus.
This evening’s hymn is no exception. The first few verses of “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” dwell on the groans and bloodiness of the crucifixion before turning to contemplate how the whole thing is our fault. And on the page across from it is a hymn called “Deep Were His Wounds” which talks about cruel Calvary, bitter agony, wretchedness, forsaken.
And yet, even in the midst of all this darkness, there is light. That light is the light of the LORD our God, our everlasting glory, which shines brighter than the sun or moon. The suffering has a purpose. Our reflections of our own sinfulness have a purpose. Paring back the things that clutter up our lives has a purpose. Because the cross, and the bloody death of Jesus Christ upon it, is not the end of the story. No matter how much death, sin, and brokenness look like they have the other hand, they don’t. No matter how unworthy we are of God’s love, God loves us still.
On the cross Jesus takes our sin upon himself and in his suffering and death, breaks the power of sin and death over us. All the things that separate us from God’s love are wiped away and we are made whole. God’s work in us will not be completed until he comes again, but it has started, growing within us like a seed. We have been claimed as the shoots God has planted, the work of his hands, made righteous. We look forward to the day when Christ comes again and the words of our lesson are fulfilled. We look forward to the day when there will be no more violence in our land or any other, no destruction or devastation, when salvation and praise are the defining characteristics of our world. It may take a long time, but it will come in God’s time.
So if that’s what we’re waiting for, and we know it’s coming, why all the gloom now? Why do we focus on the bad instead of the good during Lent? In his book “The Cost of Discipleship” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great Lutheran theologian and pastor from Germany, talked about what he called “cheap grace.” Grace is God’s free gift of salvation to us. There is nothing we can do to earn it, and nothing we can do to lose it—God gives salvation to us because he loves us, and there is nothing we can do that will make God stop loving us. But at the same time, we shouldn’t take God’s love for granted and use it as permission to sin as much as we want. Cheap grace is when we take God’s love for granted. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
In the Cross we are freed and forgiven. Jesus suffered and died to purchase our redemption, to break the chains that bind us. We are called to live in the light of that sacrifice, remembering always what Christ has done for us. We are called to respond by acknowledging our brokenness, and turning back to God. We are called to respond by being disciples. We are called to respond by living out that grace and sharing it with others, as freely as God has given it to us. That grace should never be taken for granted—we should always celebrate and remember it.
In the Cross, the gloomy darkness of this broken, sinful world is pierced by the light of God’s love for us. We are freed to become God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture and the work of God’s hands. We are called to live that reality by following Christ, our salvation and our glory.