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.

The Law and Gospel of Fasting

I’m wondering how many of you are planning to fast during Lent. Of course it isn’t a required Lenten practice. I’m going to fast, although I haven’t quite figured out what form it will take just yet. For the record, as I’m sure you already know from my previous messages, I believe the practice of fasting is good. It’s an outward honing of the senses that attempts to keep one foot in the Law of God and the other in His Gospel.

Considering the Law angle to fasting, if I had to select one word in this moment to describe it, I’d choose “imprisonment.” Fasting is a form of imprisonment. It takes us into a place where certain inclinations are purposely inhibited and it denies access to what would normally be enjoyed in Christian freedom.

Richard Wright wrote in his book The Outsider, “Men simply copied the realities of their hearts when they built prisons.” He’s right. According to the sin-nature, the human heart is a prison of thoughts, words, and deeds—things we wish we could wipe clean from our slates by our own efforts, but in the end, we just can’t. We see them through the bars and we know our guilt. We know that the wage for Sin, which is imprisonment to Death, is a just and appropriate punishment for our crimes.

I suppose that in a way, fasting takes us inside the prison, but it doesn’t do so with us as convicts being led in shackles and destined for a cell. We’re guests of the warden, and we’re reminded of what we narrowly escaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus. We’re reminded of the immense value behind the redeeming act of the innocent Son of God who exchanged His freedom for ours, who became Sin for us so that we would be free (2 Corinthians 5:21).

From this Law perspective, the Gospel is by no means robbed of its luster and given a penny price tag, but rather it’s seen as it should be seen. It’s an act that we didn’t deserve, and this side of the prison bars, it’s nothing less than priceless.

But this is the very point where we meet with the bright beaming Gospel that shines in the midst of the act of fasting. While we didn’t deserve the rescue, moved by an indescribable love, God gave it to us anyway. Ultimately, Christians fast as a way to keep their spiritual wits attuned to the immensity of the sacrifice Christ made by His suffering and death for the salvation of the world. That’s definitely Gospel. That’s the good news of Christ’s work to save us.

Whether or not you decide to fast is completely up to you. If you’re undecided on it, I say go ahead and give it a shot. Just remember that as you do, you’re not doing anything to win God’s favor. You’re doing it because you already have His favor by virtue of faith in Jesus Christ. With that, you’re fasting because you don’t want to become spiritually lazy. You’re fasting because you’re intent on never losing sight of the enormity of the events leading to and being accomplished on the Lord’s cross. You’re intent on recalling as Saint Paul recalls:

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Whatever you decide to do, I pray it will be of benefit to you. Know that I’ll be traveling alongside you in the practice for the next six weeks, and I’ll be trusting that God will both prepare and enlighten our hearts for meeting the holiest of days—the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter) and then Easter Sunday—with the integrity of those who know with joy the price of salvation and are glad to live in and proclaim that same joy to others.

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.