Hanging on the hard wood of the cross, Jesus was given a drink of sour wine from a sponge and then he proclaimed the words, “It is finished.” At that moment, John tells us, Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Certainly, the physical, emotional, and mental agony he’d endured was finished in that moment as he died. The suffering was ended. The humiliation was over. A plain hearing of this story suggests that this was the meaning of Jesus’ words. For any of us who have had to watch a loved one suffer with illness and disease, that moment of death brings with it a tinge of relief – shrouded, for sure, in overbearing grief, in longing for the one who is now gone, and a weight of sadness that makes even the most basic of human functions difficult. And yet, buried in the soil of that turmoil is the seed of recognition that even while we will continue to carry our own pain, the agony and suffering of our loved one is finished. It is possible to read Jesus’ final words through the lens of this human experience.
I wonder, though, if there isn’t something more to his words. I wonder if the “it” he refers to is not actually about the pain and suffering, not actually about the death he experienced.
Could it be that the “it” Jesus refers to in his final words is the completion of the very thing he came to do?
The primary theological conviction of John’s Gospel is that Jesus, the Word of God, is in fact God. He is the Word that speaks all things into existence. All of life is dependent upon this Word. In Jesus, God takes on human flesh and comes to dwell among us in order to reveal to us who God is. Every single thing that Jesus does is intended toward this purpose. His teaching, his healings, his miracles; his choice of companions, his habits of keeping company with sinners – tax collectors and sex workers, the rejected of society – all of this is intended to reveal something of who God is. As Jesus walked the earth, as he healed the crippled with his touch, as he ate and drank with friends, he tore down every barrier that hindered full communion between God and humanity. He did this by taking the human condition into himself and by communicating something of the divine nature to humankind.
Living among us, Jesus revealed a God of love, a God who sides with the poor and the oppressed, a God who desires wholeness for all of creation. Ultimately, Jesus revealed to us a God who chooses us, who refuses to leave us in the darkness of the human condition. By enduring the humiliation of a trumped up trial, the violent floggings that ripped open his flesh, the cruelty of being hung on a cross, Jesus reveals to us a God who is unafraid to walk into the most excruciating experiences of being human. As Jesus hung there on the cross, he could say with certainty that he had, indeed, loved his own to the end. He could say with certainty that everything he had done fulfilled his purpose. He could say with certainty, “it is finished.”
There is another side to Jesus’ revelatory life and death. As he revealed God to us in all that he did, he also revealed to us who we are. The indictment of the cross is not Jesus’ to bear – rather, it is ours. The events told within our gospel story tonight expose the ways that we all distort our identity as creatures made and loved by God. They expose the ways we manipulate others to ensure things turn out the way we want. They expose the ways we grasp at power to protect our privileges. They expose how quickly we let go of our convictions in order to avoid criticism, marginalization, and suffering. They expose how quickly we turn on those who disrupt the status quo and pick up the call to “Crucify” any who challenges our lot and status in life. Jesus’ life and death reveal this also, and to this end, he could say with certainty, “it is finished.”
With the finality of this statement, it is easy to jump ahead in our story, to arrive too soon at the hope of resurrection by focusing too narrowly on what Jesus’ life and death reveal to us about who God is. But tonight, we are invited to keep an eye on what they reveal about us. We are invited into the fear and confusion of his disciples who scattered. We are invited into the heartache of a mother watching her son suffer and die. Tonight, we are invited into the emptiness of loss and unfulfilled expectation. Moving too quickly to the hope of resurrection renders our hope shallow and unstable. Tonight, as we look upon the empty cross, we are invited to sit in the discomfort of longing because it is only through longing that our hope is given shape and deepened.