I used to think that we needed to pause for a long time after “the wages of sin…” When I served as pastor of a Lutheran Brethren church for 15 years, I found several good friends in the local Evangelical Pastors’ Fellowship. Our group would hold joint worship services twice per year, at Thanksgiving and on Good Friday, and we took turns preaching. One thing bothered me about the Good Friday services: Because they had only one shot at that particular audience, the preachers invariably turned the Good Friday message into an Easter message. They were unable to leave Christ in the grave for three days. And I felt we lost something in the process. We were not allowed to dwell on “the wages of sin…” We jumped too soon to “but the gift of God…”
The contrast is important. We need to let the impact of Jesus’ death because of our sin sink in—to fully appreciate the gravity of our sin and the depth of his love. Without reaching that level, I feared we would buy into “easy believism” or “cheap grace.”
I think that’s the idea behind the Good Friday Tenebrae Service. Tenebrae is from the Latin for shadows or darkness. There are various versions of the service, but as I’ve experienced it, after each Scripture passage on the Crucifixion is read, a candle is extinguished and the room is darkened more and more. When the last candle is extinguished, there is a loud noise—a “crashing” sound. Then the worshipers file out of the service in silence and near darkness. And they have something to think about as they wait for Easter morning.
I said, I used to think we needed to pause for a long time after “the wages of sin…” I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe the length of time we need to ponder our depravity and God’s grace depends on the person. Maybe it depends on where we are in life, what we’re presently experiencing, what we’ve been through. Some of us know the wages of sin better than we want to. We’re desperate for new life. We long to hear the words, “But the gift of God…”
To hear those words, to finally finish the sentence, is like breathing air again at last. We revel in new life—eternal life. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with supreme joy. Why? Because, before, we had only heard the words “It is finished!” But now, we see the risen Jesus, and we know for certain that it is true!
Rev. Brent Juliot edits Faith & Fellowship magazine, teaches math at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, and serves as pastor at Stavanger Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.