I Believe Jesus was Crucified, Dead & Buried
Every time you confess the Apostles Creed you say, "I believe Jesus..was crucified, dead, and buried." Many a Good Friday you have dwelled on Jesus being crucified, but what about dead and buried? The ancient Apostles Creed confesses not just the gruesomeness of crucifixion but the degradation of death and burial. And while none of us have any fear of being crucified, death and burial is in the future of us all. Our fears, uneasiness and queasiness, connected to death and burial can lead us to better appreciate what Jesus did for us on this Friday Christians call Good.
Do you really believe that Jesus went though the the fearful ripping apart of body and soul that you and I fear? Yes, I know Jesus died willingly. Yes, I know Jesus commended His Spirit to His Father right before dying. But don't you dare think Jesus died any other way than a sinner should die. He dies in our place. It would hardly be in our place if He died as the holy, perfect, precious Son of God that He was. No, He needed to die as sinners should: with the black, bottomless chasm of nothingness open before Him ready to swallow Him forever and ever.
Jesus dies in our place. It would hardly be in our place if His soul separated from His body softly, gently. Is that how you've seen sinners die? Sure, some pass away peacefully, but many, if they're not under sedation, pass in agitation, hesitation, even desperation. Don't think the flesh that is heading for a cramped coffin and 6 feet of dirt, easily turns loose of the immortal soul that gives it life, thought, sense, and emotion. Doesn't it hurt to tear a ligament? Hurts even more to lose a finger or toe. When what God joins to together is separated, it hurts and hurts badly. And God the Son experienced this.
But that's not all. What you think about, fear, and dread in connection with your own death, the holy Son of God went through. How many times have people told me, "I don't want anyone standing around looking at me when I'm dead." There Jesus hangs on the cross, stone cold dead. And while quite properly Christian art puts clothes on the dead Jesus, He most likely had none. There Jesus hangs dead and naked with everyone standing around looking at Him. He's not in a coffin in His best suit or dress. His hands aren't folded gracefully on His chest but nailed to either side of Him.
When you die it's not likely any medical or funeral home staff will abuse your body. Wouldn't you be mortified if they did? But the Romans weren't so polite. They jabbed Jesus with a spear; hear the hollow thud and splitting flesh; see blood and water. And how carefully do you think they handled the body of Jesus as they brought Him down from the cross? Do you think the soldiers pulling the nails were gentle? Don't you think they stepped on His arms to pull the nails free? Don't you think they yanked out the nail holding the holy feet of Jesus, and then shoved His corpse out of the way? You shudder. It's a curious fact of human nature that it can tolerate violence done to a living body more than it can violence done to a dead body.
I suppose you might have sweet images of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus burying Jesus. I'm not so sure it was all that sweet. Men rarely do things like this sweetly. And we know it wasn't good enough for the women who looked on. No matter how reverent it might be, it still makes us shudder to think of our dead body being dressed in clothes, our dead hair being combed, our dead body being wiped down. And just about everyone's blood runs cold when they think of being put in the grave. It's not about claustrophobia; it's about fearing the cold, dark, damp grave.
All that creeps you out about death, Jesus went through. And Jesus went through it because of you. Because of your unbelief, because of your misbelief, because of your shameful sins and because of the sins you're not ashamed of, Jesus not only was crucified but dead and buried. There's a crucifix in Germany. Underneath is the inscription, "Sinner, see here your work." Unless your conscience is tormented by your sins in like measure as Jesus' was tormented and tortured in His body for your sins, you will receive no benefit from the Passion of Christ. It will be no more than a movie you watch so you can feel good about feeling bad.
Good Friday isn't a once a year pity party for Jesus. We confess to believe these things every Sunday of the year because Jesus being crucified, dead and buried for us is to drive our daily lives. It's not to be something we remember once a year or watch like we do a movie to be distracted for awhile. So how is believing in the events we heard tonight to drive the rest of our lives?
Jesus put down the last penny and then some to satisfy God's eternal wrath against our sins and our inborn sinfulness. God in wrath drowned almost all of mankind in a flood. God in wrath rained hail stones down on people, burnt them with fire, and shed their blood till it ran in the streets and caused horses to slip. God in wrath killed, crippled and maimed people. God in wrath killed babies. Yet none of these things were able to satisfy God's wrath or pay for sins. The suffering and death of Jesus today did.
But when someone is enraged; they don't stop with killing. No, they continue to punch, kick, and beat the dead body till their strength and their anger is spent. So Jesus not only died but His body continued to suffer humiliation and degradation, so you might know for certain that not only are all your sins paid for but all of God's wrath is spent. That little voice that plays relentlessly in your head that God is angry with you, wants to hurt you, wants to make you suffer as your sins deserve, is a lie. God's wrath has been spent, vented, satisfied, and appeased by all that Jesus went through.
What about that opened grave gaping at you? What about the prospect of being placed in a coffin, the lid being closed, the coffin being placed in the ground, a vault being placed over it, and then 168 cubic feet of dirt being piled on top of you? The fear of this, the dread of this can drive your life the rest of your days. It can haunt your sleep and fixate your thoughts to the point of not just despair but neurosis or even psychosis. Well Jesus laid in that grave that bothers you so. Listen to the words of 17th century Lutheran Johann Gerhard: "Our hearts are fearful about our lying down in such a grave. However, here comes Christ and touches our graves with His holy Body...with this touch He turns our graves into a resting place.."
Jesus sanctified the human womb by placing Himself into the womb of the Virgin Mary. He sanctified the water that is poured on us in Baptism by being baptized Himself. He sanctified the suffering, crying, bleeding and dying that our unholy bodies go through by going through them with His holy body. And finally, He sanctified, made holy, our graves. That's why Christians have marked, decorated, and visited the graves of their dead in Christ. They aren't places of dead bodies but of redeemed ones.
I believe Jesus was crucified, dead and buried for me. He who was made to be sin, according to St. Paul, was placed and sealed in a tomb. Where you see Jesus' body going that's where you are to see your sins going: the sins that bother your conscience, the sins you can't seem to forget, the sins that others will never forgive you for. There they go into the grave. Your sins go where Jesus' body does because the Father joined them to Him. Your sins went into the grave with Jesus. Now don't you dare dig them up again.
You can dig them up by reclaiming them as your own. The old Adam, the sinful nature, cannot safely be dug back up. You aren't to root around in the grave of Jesus and reclaim that sin of yours by willfully taking it back. You are not to say it doesn't matter if you return to your greed, your pride, your lust, your gossip, your unbelief as if it was only for today that the Father buried those things. This isn't a movie that messes with your emotions for a day or two, and then it's back to normal. Normal is changed now. When your sins come back to you and they will, you are to look at them as monsters coming out of the grave. Run from them; don't embrace them. Hold up the crucifix to them as you would a vampire. Wash them away in Baptism as you would dirt. Disown them by the power of Absolution. Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ as an antidote against them.
Don't dig in the grave of Jesus for your sins, not by returning them to your life or by returning them to your conscience. This isn't the "Tell-Tale Heart." There's no life beat left in your sins. They are dead and gone to God the Father because God the Son has died for them, with them, and has buried them. When they speak from beyond the grave haunting your conscience, and they will, you are not to listen to them. You are to listen to God speaking in your Baptism, in your Absolution, and in your Communion. The Father says you've been washed of sins, declared free of sins, and recreated without sins by the Body and Blood of Christ you eat and drink.
In that recent train wreck in California, a man was trapped. He thought he was about to die. In his own blood, he scrawled the words "I love Leslie" and "I love my kids!" drawing a heart for the word "love." The man lived; the words he wrote in his blood will live even longer. Much more so the holy Words of the God/Man who has written in His own blood in letters so large that His Father can read them from heaven: "I love these sinners;" "I was crucified, dead and buried for them." Even when we have a hard time seeing them on earth though they are etched in our hearts by Baptism, echoed in our ears by Absolution, and put into our bodies by Communion, the Father can always see them. And that matters most of all. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (3-25-05); Second Article