Grace Church Brooklyn Heights
April 6, 2012
“Jesus said, ‘It is finished.'” These are the words of chapter 19, verse 30 of John’s Gospel.
“It is finished.”
What is finished? This is a question for us who gather here in prayer on Good Friday.
What is finished? And in the finishing, what has been gained and what has been lost?
The Christ of Saint John’s Gospel who speaks those final words has revealed himself throughout the Passion we have [heard/sung] today as in-charge, knowing what is facing him, and choosing it all freely, in strength.
He comes forward in the garden to face his betrayer and the soldiers and police. He makes himself known to them without hesitation, and makes sure that those with him in the garden will remain free and unharmed.
He faces the authority of Annas and Caiphas and Pilate one after the other through a long night of interrogation, without fear. He knew that Judas would betray him. He knew that Peter would deny his discipleship. He knew the disciples would desert him. He engages with the Roman governor only to the measure he himself decides, and beyond that, recognizes nothing of Pilate’s threats. He stands before the public, accepts the sentence of death by crucifixion without flinching.
He carries his own cross to Golgotha according to John.
There is no Simon of Cyrene here. There is only Jesus the Christ, serene in spirit in the midst of betrayal, trial, condemnation, torture; and finally, before the instrument of execution.
From the cross, as he is dying, he actively works to assure that his mother will be cared for, and that the disciple he loves will have a mother’s love.
And, according to John, it is almost as if Jesus chooses the moment of his death itself. He calls for wine to ease his thirst. He receives it, and then he says,
“It is finished; tetelestai.”
All is done.
It is completed.
It is fulfilled.
What is finished?
The days and nights of his voice being heard as he taught in the synagogues and public places?
The miracles of healing that he had brought about?
The hope his disciples and friends had placed in him?
The threat Jesus posed to the establishment of his time and place?
The innocence of his disciples before the power of the world?
The mission Jesus received from the Father?
Yes, in some sense all of these are done, completed, fulfilled, finished. Jesus has reached an end: “They made his grave with the wicked . . . although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Is 53:9)
The Son of God has gone to his death. Jesus of Nazareth is dead. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb 5:8). And now, it is finished.
Here, now, this Good Friday, we are allowed and invited to rest in this moment, as bleak as it seems. There is a temptation to push on past this moment, to turn our backs on the cross and the dead body lying heavy upon it, and to look resolutely forward through tomorrow’s hours of silence to Sunday, and to the revolutionary news we know awaits us there.
But this is precisely a temptation, this Friday’s temptation. The long tradition of those who have believed and prayed before us through the millennia bids us pause,
to rest in this moment,
to allow the gaze of our hearts to remain on the face of Christ on the cross,
on his outstretched arms,
on the blood and water that flow from his side.
Like lovers of anyone who has only just died, we are bid to remain in this place, to honor the irreplaceable weight of this moment. Of this sacred moment. We are called . . .
“Were you there?” asks the familiar hymn. We are called, yes, to be here.
It is finished.
As true as is that catalogue of all that is completed on Calvary, there is more. What is finished and done is any chance that you or I or anyone near or far can escape diminishment, pain, and death by human effort alone. And, what is gone is the despair that there is no escape from death, or that we face it absolutely alone.
In the telling of his Last Supper on Thursday evening, we hear Jesus say of the broken bread, “This is my body.” This next day, his body lies broken on the cross as bread for the world. The love of God, God’s big love, has died for us today. The love of God has died remembering us today. The love of God has died, quite simply, for us. For us and for our salvation.
What is finished then is any human dying that does not touch the very center and depth of the heart of God. Every death touches the core of God. “The death of his loved ones is precious to the Lord”.
Young Trayvon Martin of Sanford, Florida;
twelve thousand Syrians who longed for freedom and peace; thirty-two Tibetan monks who have immolated themselves in the last year thirsting for their own land;
three thousand dead in ethnic violence in South Sudan;
twelve students and one teacher taken by violence thirteen years ago at Columbine,
and seven students taken this past week at Oikos University;
the 2,996 who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001;
all the deaths of loved ones that we have experienced down through our years;
and the fear or dread or loathing we may know at the thought of our own ultimate going forth from this life.
None of these are multiple, nameless deaths of unknown men and women. Each one of these is the death of a person –
a sister or brother,
a best friend,
a man of hope,
a woman of vision –
known and loved by God.
Every one of these is the death of Christ. In every one of these abides the love of God that dared to freely die on Calvary.
What is finished on the cross of Christ today is any death that would not matter, that would not be of ultimate significance to the heart of God; any death that does not shake the world and remake the universe in ways beyond our human sight.
There is no such death.
As the eyes of each one are closed;
as every last breath is taken, Jesus is there.
He is in that last fleeting light.
He is in that final exhalation.
In him, our death becomes the revelation of God’s own love.
to be human
is to be carried by,
conformed with, and
linked to the divine
in ways that mark life, and transform death.
Resting in the desolation of this day then, we can find its goodness by remaining
and still enough,
and quiet enough
to come to know that the scene on Calvary, its stark reality, assures us that though we will die, we will not die alone;
that though we are sinners, we need not suffer the pain of our sin; that though we fail to love, we always and forever are loved.
What is finished today is the possibility of a human life untouched at last by God’s own glory.
What begins today, shared by God and us, is a hope that cannot die.
John P. McGinty