Readings: Daniel 9:1-27
Sermon Text: John 19:28-30
All Lent we’ve talked about holidays. And I wonder, what is your favorite holiday and why? We will take Christmas and Easter off the board. Why? If anyone says anything other than, “It is my favorite because we are celebrating Jesus’ birth or Jesus’ resurrection” they are going to come off looking like a “bad” Christian. So of all the other ones, which is your favorite? I was kind of taking a gamble there. My hope is that no one would mention Labor Day. No one did. Why not?
Here are my guesses. Last night we talked abut Memorial Day. People love that because it is the unofficial start to summer. Well, Labor Day is the unofficial end. After Labor Day, there are no more week-long vacations at a resort up north. Kids go back to school, making life hectic for them and their parents. We start that stretch of months that end with “er” and “ary” – the cold ones that make us wonder why we live this far north. Sure, we do get a day off of work, but the Tuesday after that Monday is a wake-up call that a pattern has been started, one that won’t end until things get warm and sunny again. Labor Day isn’t a favorite because it means the end of a lot of things we love.
And another thing about Labor Day. That name seems odd. I know the history behind Labor Day and why it was started. But another word for labor is work. What do very few of us do on Labor Day? Very few of us labor. Very few of us work.
A day not too many of us really like that much because it means the end of something, and a day when we don’t do any work. Couldn’t we use those same words to describe today – Good Friday? We all know what happened. This is the culmination of our Savior’s humiliation. From the time he became a true human being up until the day he died, Jesus willingly set aside full power and glory. Why? He had to in order to take our place. He had to live in this world and deal with the consequences of that. He had to face all the temptations we face and never once give in. He had to give up everything that was rightfully his as true God and, to save his creations, become one of them.
And as our readings and hymns during this service will powerfully remind us, what happened on Good Friday was horrific. Often when we picture Jesus on the cross, standing before Pilate, or being beaten, we sanitize the image. Maybe we see a few drops of blood in our minds or a few scrapes on his back. But the reality of what he endured is something we can only fully grasp if we were there. Mercifully, the Gospel writers focus on what happened and spare us gory details. I could go through the details of what happens to human body during crucifixion, but I won’t. I made that mistake years ago and people later told me the inhuman torture I described was all they could think about for days. All this, all that he endured, was the full force of God’s anger over sin, a force that should have been directed our way, being leveled on him.
And after all that, we know what happened. He bowed his head and died. The Author of Life forfeited his own. The sinless one felt the ultimate result of sin. He who brought peace to many now rested in it. Those who stood watching – his family, disciples, enemies, Roman soldiers – all of them thought this was his end. For some, that was too much to handle. For others, it was exactly what they wanted. The lifeless body of Jesus of Nazareth was taken off that cross and laid in a tomb.
If we aren’t super pumped about Labor Day because it means the end of summer and of so many things we really like, well, isn’t that feeling 100 times stronger on Good Friday? Jesus’ life ended. During that life, during his 33 years, he loved more than anyone could love. He cared more than anyone could care. In the face of hatred, he was kind. To those who needed him – for whatever reason – he was always there. He healed, fed, taught, preached… he did it all. And everything he did was done for the good of everyone he met, that they might know him, and in knowing him, they might know the peace of sins forgiven, the love of his Father, and the blessed assurance of a home waiting for them in heaven.
And today, we remember that he died. And we are not innocent bystanders in this. Our lesson says, “knowing that everything had now been finished…” What was finished was his work of taking our sin upon himself and paying the brutal price for it with his life. As I wrote that last sentence, I thought, “That sounds too weak.” But how else do we say it? How can we rightly summarize that Jesus was on that cross for the sins of each of us here? How can we understand the magnitude of the fact every sin we’ve ever committed in our entire lives was placed squarely on his shoulders, and with all that on him, he felt absolutely alone, totally deserted, and in the worst anguish any person has ever known? To realize all that, to realize our part in it, to think of him on that cross and facing all this with no one at his side, why would we ever want to celebrate that? How can we ever get excited about the worst end of anyone or anything in the history of the world?
Here’s why. At the beginning I mentioned how odd the name Labor Day seems since we don’t do any work. Our text has those famous words: “It is finished.” And we said what he was talking about was finishing the work of doing everything perfectly in our place, including dying. Does he say, “Guys, we finished it!” Or “With your help, I was able to get the task done.” Nope. He did all the work. And he did because he was the only one who could do it.
Whenever the topic of forgiveness and salvation come up, either in a new member class, catechism, or Bible class, I ask people, “Let’s say that in order to be saved you just have to live up to God’s expectations for 1 hour of your entire life. Would you ever have any confidence or comfort?” Every time I have asked that, the answer has always been the same – a resounding no. People go on to explain that while they might do the right thing, their motives were all wrong, selfish and misguided. For all the people they helped, how many did they walk on by? What about the far from pleasant thoughts that went through their minds? They understand that if even the smallest workload in this area is placed on us, there is not only zero chance at hope. There is a certainty of fear, confusion, and overwhelming sadness.
But on Good Friday, the most important Labor Day in history, Jesus did all the work. And that offers a comfort and a peace nothing else can give. He did it all, and he did it for us. He died that we might live. He became sin to take it all from us. And to finish the job, he had to pay that price. He had to give his life. Yes, two days from now we will rejoice he took that life back up again. But tonight, stick to the issue. He did all the work. He did it. And he did it for you. So you know his love. So you enjoy complete forgiveness. So you have a heart filled with the hope of God’s presence, now and eternally.
Yes, Good Friday was the end of something. And yes, on that day, Jesus did all the work. The Labor Day that rolls around each September may not be that special of a day for us. But the real Labor Day, Good Friday, means everything. And since we know the truth of Easter, this Labor Day is far from an end. On Good Friday, the seed was planted in the ground. And the new life that is ours when that seed sprouted, the new life we will talk about in two days, is our ultimate beginning.
Don’t dread this true Labor Day because it is the end. Celebrate it, because this is ground zero, where God and man meet, and together they walk away from the cross as family. And that is the case, because someone did all the work, all the laboring that day – Jesus, the Christ, our Savior. Amen.