The Concentrated Fire of Holy Week

We’ve entered Jerusalem with Jesus, and what a moving moment it was. And yet, the noise of the day has subsided. The crowds have dispersed. The colt, the beast that carried the Lord, has been returned to its owner. The palm branches once waved are now drying in the garbage. The garments once scattered along the road as a royal walkway for the King of kings are now piled in the peoples’ laundry bins.

This was not the D-Day landing of God’s victory, but merely the easy caressing of the ocean breeze, the pleasant undulation caused by the deeper tides, the sounds of lapping waves against a vessel on approach of a most violent shore.

Holy Week now begins. It is a vessel containing one man—the God-man, Jesus.

From Monday to Wednesday, it first makes its way to the shallower waters. Final preparations are made. On Maundy Thursday, its landing door will begin to open, and from its belly emerges the one soldier who, even as He was given and sent by order of the Father, willingly and humbly, He charges forth unarmed into Good Friday.

“This is your hour,” He’ll say, looking squarely into the eyes of the enemy at Gethsemane’s gate, “the hour of the power of darkness.” Those enemies will grin as they take to their guns, fully embracing the hour’s opportunity and giving Him everything their arsenals provide.

The razor wire of abuse amidst an imbalanced trial will cut Him. But He’ll press forward. The stinging shrapnel of Roman punishment—mocking, spitting, beating, a crown of thorns pounded onto His head with a staff, forty lashes minus one—all will tear through Him. But He’ll continue on. The speaking of the verdict and sentence will weigh heavily as it makes certain that He is alone in the battle. No reinforcements are coming. But He’ll pit Himself into engagement, anyway. The concentrated fire relentlessly spewed from the unholy weaponry of Sin, Death, and hell’s legions—Himself being nailed to a cross and propped in utter disgrace—these will pierce Him through. Still, He’ll keep on.

He’ll die on the shore of that cross. But by His death, the fuse to an extraordinary weapon will have been lit. With its detonation comes the complete annihilation of the enemy and the winning of the entire war.

Of course, victory in death makes little sense to any reasonably created mind. As the Palm Sunday hymn muses, even the angels look on in curiosity:

“Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.” (LW, 105)

We’ll need the preaching of the Gospel to understand. It is the power for faith. We’ll need the Holy Spirit at work by God’s Word to interpret this blood soaked scene into our hearts. Only then will we be rightly positioned at a safe distance to see the One who died in the goriest of warfare suddenly take to His feet in a magnificent resurrection, shred the enemy, and plant the flag of victory.

This Gospel will be preached here at Our Savior in Hartland each sacred day of Holy Week. The effort began on Palm Sunday. It continues every day until Saturday. Monday to Wednesday this week, the services begin at 7:00 PM. On Maundy Thursday, the Triduum (“three days”) begins with a service at 7:00 PM. Good Friday continues the Triduum with a 1:00 PM Tre Ore (“three hours”) service and a 7:00 PM Service of Tenebrae (“darkness”). The Triduum comes to a conclusion at the Lord’s tomb with the Vigil of Easter service at 7:30 PM on Saturday.

My prayer for you is that you will make time in your schedule as a citizen of the Kingdom established by the events of Holy Week to receive God’s gifts for you. And if you aren’t a member of this congregation, then make plans to attend Holy Week services in your own church. If your church pays no mind to Holy Week, then go somewhere that does. As I’ve urged you before, you’re truly missing out. Be gathered together with the Christian family to hear the reports sent back from the frontline of God’s campaign on your behalf. Learn of the fierce combat. Know the cost. Understand exactly what it was that won your eternal freedom. And then from the Good Friday news of the divine Captain’s death, discover yourself equipped with a strange and wonderful hopefulness that will have you teetering at the edge of your seat in joyful anticipation of the Easter headlines: VICTORY! HE IS RISEN!

I promise it will be well worth your while.

Life is Short. Eternity is Not.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

God is good. Even when the terrors of mortality are befalling us, He is good. That’s what this whole week is about—the fact that Jesus has stepped into the darkness for us.

In last night’s sermon (Holy Wednesday), I preached, essentially, that a major theme of the whole Bible is the affronting knowledge of human beings’ inabilities to get free from the darkness. I even gave my humble opinion, sharing that I truly believe that the myth of human moral progress or longevity or innate goodness dies more and more when we behold events like sarin gas attacks on civilians, or situations involving a father having to put his son’s body parts into a plastic bag after a bomb goes off in a Palm Sunday worship service. I could add cancer to those examples. I shared rather straightforwardly that the most valuable thinkers in the Christian communities are the ones who can admit to the fact that any optimism about the capability of human nature against the darkness of Sin, Death, and the Devil is, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “the sacrifice of fools.”

And so, when we consider the darkness, when we look into it, we are taught by the Word of God to understand it rightly. It permeates not only the world, but also our very selves, and we are helpless against it.

But now, Jesus steps onto the scene. God takes upon Himself human flesh and reaches out to us. Serving us, loving us, caring for us, He calls Himself the Light of the world. He makes sure that we know—and He proves it over and over and over again—that He is the only One who can venture into this darkness and dispel it. And He does. His life, His suffering, His cross, His resurrection, His ascension—these events change everything; almost as if the world was spinning in one direction and then suddenly it was reversed.

Because Jesus changes everything, faith in Him changes everything, too. Terror isn’t dominating. Hope is there. We have hope because we have Jesus.

This is the message of Holy Week and Easter, and this same message is the good word that we need each and every day of our lives. Before I gave you an update, I wanted to share that Good News with you, and not just because what I need to share is tough, but because I love you in the Lord and I want you to be steadied with the same muscle that has steadied every true believer throughout the history of man.

Pastor Heckert, our dear friend, has stage four lung cancer. Without sharing all of the details, the doctor has indicated that without treatment, we are looking at a window of mortal life of about three to six months. And yet, the doctor also indicated that with an immediate beginning to some aggressive radiation, as much as two years may be gained. As it stands, Pastor Heckert will begin the radiation this week, starting first with the tumor on his hip.

I want you to know that when I was at his home yesterday, he expressed his love for the Lord so very clearly—as always—and that he is trusting firmly in the will of God. This is the Holy Spirit alive and well in a Christ-centered Christian human being. I dare say that in that moment of pastoral care, being that I love the man so very much, it was almost more difficult to serve him the comforting Gospel as opposed to seeing that he wanted to serve me, too, so that I would not be sad. This is a testament to his calling as a pastor and a witness to the fruits of faith being borne and shared.

Please keep him in your prayers. As I learn more, I will communicate with you.

In this, God grant to you His eternal peace as you cling to the Savior and His promise of love, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Also, come to church tonight. If you had something planned, put it aside. Reschedule it. Come and be strengthened by the Maundy Thursday proclamation and the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Join your Christian family in the pews and at the Lord’s Altar.

Life is short. Eternity is long—timeless, in fact. Receive what surpasses all understanding and keeps the heart and mind of the believer in Christ Jesus, our Lord, for and into this eternity.

In Jesus,

Pastor Thoma+

If Your Church Doesn’t Have a Christmas Day Service…

The Feast of the Nativity is upon us!

That’s right! That night and day celebrated across the globe by the Church universal as the event of all events, second only to the Triduum—the Holy “Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

As you know, Christmas Day is this Sunday, and with that we’ll keep to our regular worship schedule of 9:30 AM. I mentioned in the last email newsletter that I was wondering what attendance might be like this Sunday. I say that only because while Christmas Eve services are sure to be well attended, the actual festival day is often a bit thin. I pray you’ll make time to be in worship. In contrast to my words, I just saw a note from a fairly popular Christian author saying that he was thankful to all the Christian churches that were cancelling their Christmas Day services this Sunday. Being a pastor’s kid, he was saying that he was glad the pastors would be able to skip worship for once and find time to celebrate Christmas like everyone else.

Um. Uh… What?

Okay, I get what he thinks he’s trying to say, but he seems to have completely missed the purpose for worship by saying it. In fact, his words make it sound like time with Jesus in worship can sometimes be an inconvenience, that it has the potential for getting in the way of more important things—like time with family. As nice as that sounds, it is completely wrong and misses the mark of concern by a mile.

How about this instead? A friend of mine from back in my seminary days, Reverend Hans Fiene, he wrote a note just as recently saying that if your church doesn’t have a service on Christmas Day, transfer to one that does. Period.

I whole heartedly agree. So, if you have any friends looking for a Christ-centered celebration of the Nativity on the actual day, tell them about that church on the north side of M-59 just a little east of Fenton Road. Yeah, the one at 13667 W. Highland Road in Hartland. Not only have I heard that it’s a very friendly place, but I’ve heard that they’ve never closed their doors on a scheduled worship opportunity in 62 years. They’re pretty serious about what they do in that place—very mindful of their time with Christ.