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The Sounds of Lent: Dice and Death Cry
John 19:23-30


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Good Friday—April 2, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We conclude our Lenten sermon series on “The Sounds of Lent” with two incongruous sounds heard at Calvary on Good Friday as Christ was crucified.  Like fingernails on a chalkboard, these two sounds together at the cross are shockingly discordant.

The only Apostle at the cross who Christ being crucified was John.  In his Gospel he gives this eyewitness account: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’ This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’ So this is what the soldiers did.” 

Matthew says, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”  We don’t know exactly what game of chance it was that the soldiers were playing to pass the time as they waited for Christ to die.  Traditionally, it is interpreted as throwing dice, which was a favorite Roman gambling game, and easy for the soldiers to carry with them.  The New Living Translation says, “After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.”

Dividing up the victim’s possessions was the customary bonus for soldiers assigned to the dreaded crucifixion detail.  But, Christ’s undergarment is seamless, woven in one piece.  Such large pieces of cloth were rare and valuable.  And, so, instead of cutting it up, the soldiers decide to gamble for it, fulfilling the prophecy in the Psalms, “They divided my garments among them, and cast lots for my clothing.”

The callous indifference of the soldiers, actually playing games at the very foot of the cross while Christ is dying, is really representative of all of humanity, of you and me, and the sinful, callous indifference we often show in our lives toward God, and his will, and his ways. 

The sound of dice clattering at the foot of the cross is made even more appalling by the stark contrast with the sound of their victim’s final death cry, Christ’s last word from the cross: “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

Paul says in Romans, “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . .  God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The soldiers amusing themselves with dice even as Christ hung above on the cross them is symbolic, of the waywardness of humanity, and God’s undeserved love toward us all.  “Christ died for the ungodly. . .  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Peter explains the significance and results for us of Christ’s death: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  The sound of dice clattering at the cross is representative of our unrighteousness.  But, the sound of Christ’s death cry proclaims God’s cure for our unrighteousness.  “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

That is why Christians call this day, on which we commemorate the death founder of our faith, “Good Friday.”  Good Friday, because it was for our good, and the good of all humanity, that he went to the cross.  As John says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Good Friday, because his life, suffering, death, and resurrection makes us good in the sight of God.  As Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” 

Amen.

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