I’ve spent much time during the last few days by the bedside of our dear sister in Christ, Mary Brockhouse, who awaits our Lord’s summons to come home to Him in heaven.
Mary’s waiting in great weakness to behold the full power and glory of Christ’s cross. We too wait, perhaps for longer than she and perhaps for less. Lent is a time for us to ponder and feebly attempt to comprehend the power and glory of Jesus’ cross. We begin this on Ash Wednesday. With ashes traced on our foreheads in the shape of a cross, we behold the sacrifice that Christ has made for us: slaughtered, burned by the fiery wrath of God, yet saving us.
Would you make plans to begin Lent with your congregation this Ash Wednesday? Take the time to set aside whatever it is that might keep you from the Divine Service. Come and receive from Christ.
In preparation, I want to share with you something from the Reverend Harold Senkbeil, a retired pastor and one of my professors at the seminary. Consider these words about your Lord Jesus:
There’s a note of sobriety and somberness about the Lenten season. That’s as it should be; Lent’s liturgical silences and somber worship serve to underscore the profound tragedy of our sin and the awesome penalty that sin exacted: the very death of God! But the somberness of this season is tinged in victory. For Christ’s cross is actually not an emblem of defeat but a sign of conquest.
The cross in and of itself wasn’t much. In point of fact, it wasn’t worth anything. And crucifixion victims were a dime a dozen to the Roman soldiers. Life was cheap to them and their commanding officers, and they could nail a man to a cross as easily as you or I squash a bug. So the cross itself wasn’t all that extraordinary. And yet the cross of Jesus has tremendous power—because of the victim on it. Listen to what Scripture has to say about him who hung there: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”
Did you catch that? All the “fullness” of God dwelled in him. In other words, Jesus is the One who made the stars and set the planets spinning – the One by whom the Father called forth this infinite universe out of nothing. And yet, though he was God enfleshed, he allowed himself to hang there, naked and despised, the victim of the sins and spite – the pain and hurt – of all mankind. Can you get your heart around the infinite love of this God of ours who would stoop so low for us all?
And so, because of Jesus, the cross is a most powerful sign indeed. If you’ve ever wondered what God is really up to in your life, have a look at the cross. If you’ve ever wondered whether God is interested in you, or whether he really cares or actually loves you despite all evidence to the contrary, then take a good long look at the cross. For through the cross of Jesus we come to know God and what he’s truly like. This is all we know of God – and all we need to know: he is a God who dives right into the horror of our sin and death, all the hurt and misery of our private pain – taking all that onto himself and into himself and bearing it all away, even though it it cost him his life. All for you.
So the cross is no mere emblem of God’s love, or the possibility for forgiveness, or the potential of hope and healing for our misery and shame. Rather, the cross is where Jesus tackled the real sin, shame, and hurt of our lives head on and purchased real forgiveness and cleansing, “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” This peace the world could never give and it surpasses all human understanding, but it’s all for you – purchased by the blood of Jesus, guaranteed by his glorious resurrection, and presented to you now within his church.
H Senkbeil, “Triumph at the Cross,” (Northwestern Publishing House, 1999), 50-52, alt.
Dear friends, I pray you’ll be in the Divine Service tomorrow, having traced on you the ashen cross and having placed into your mouths the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!