Last Sunday we took a closer look at the fifth word Jesus spoke from the cross. “I thirst” is both the shortest and the most physically vulnerable of the seven last words. It stands to reason that as he was hanging on the cross in the heat of the midday sun, Jesus would have been thirsty to the point of desperation.
Or maybe, as I indicated last week, the thirst Jesus was referencing on the cross was deeper than a physical need. When human beings thirst for something, especially the way it’s portrayed in the Bible, the connotation of the word has to do with being filled with desire for something or someone. Which leads to the idea that God “thirsts” for human beings, pursuing you and me through Jesus Christ with relentless abandon. Pursuing human beings all the way to the foot of the cross itself.
This morning, we read the “sixth word” Jesus spoke from the cross. Not much longer than the fifth word, it actually consists of only one verse in John’s Gospel. “It is finished” marks an endpoint, a sign of completion or resolution, a clear indication that Jesus was taking his final breath.
There are two ways to interpret this sixth word. The first interpretation is that Jesus was surrendering his own life. In other words, I give in and I give up. While Jesus actually hung on the cross for a shorter total time than most people who died by crucifixion in the time of the Roman Empire, there is no question Jesus endured a good deal of physical torture on his way to the cross. Now his life was coming to an end.
As he hung there on the cross, one could look back secure in the knowledge that Jesus fought the good fight. He battled the forces that conspired to convict him and punish him to death. He made his point. He lived a good and noble and righteous life and the battle was now over. There was no shame and no judgement in the reality that Jesus finally relented…
If you and I were to look back at our own lives, surrendering isn’t the worst option we can imagine. On the contrary, surrender is sometimes a really good option. If we’ve been in a marriage that doesn’t work or a relationship fueled by some kind of abuse, asserting that we are finished and walking away is often the initial step in the healing process.
If we’re tired of the work we’re doing. If we’re being paid too little and we’re being hassled too much. If we’re working too many hours for too little appreciation. Then there’s something liberating about walking out the door and never going back again. It is finished.
It is finished might even be Jesus pointing the finger back at himself. If only he had picked a more capable, more faithful group of disciples. Maybe he should have come across as less strident and confrontational in his interactions with the religious authorities. If Jesus had flown under the radar more effectively, he might never have drawn the attention and raised the anxiety of Pilate and his soldiers. Jesus could have been less radical, less threatening, less revolutionary, less critical of the world as it was.
Instead, Jesus threw caution to the wind. He gave it his best shot. And it wound up costing Jesus his life. When all was said and done, what else would Jesus have said on the cross? “It is finished,” pretty much sums it up…
I have to say though that I hear the sixth word differently. Instead of a word signaling surrender, I think “it is finished” was actually Jesus proclaiming his own sense of satisfaction and achievement. On a much more mundane level, it’s like putting the shovels in the garage and looking out at the driveway and the walkway with no snow on them anymore. Yes, you’ve worked hard and accomplished the task at hand…it is finished. Or better yet, when you finally tuck the shovels and the snowblower in the back of the garage because the weather is getting warmer and it’s finally looking like spring time. You know what I mean? Yes, winter is over. It is finished.
It might have been different if Jesus had said, “I am finished.” Rather, Jesus said, “it is finished.” His work was done. He didn’t die on the cross as a failed revolutionary. Quite the opposite, his death on the cross was the revolution…
Every so often I reminisce with fondness about some of the summer jobs I had through high school and college. I’m not sure I felt quite so fondly about them while I was in the midst of those summers. But as I reflect, the few summers when I painted houses, for example, there was always something satisfying about packing up the brushes and the drop cloths and walking away from a house with a fresh coat of paint on it, knowing I had seen a task through from beginning to end with a clear, visible result.
As much as I love the work I do right now, rarely do I have the sense that ministry is finished. There are always more people in need, more connections to be made, more meetings to attend. Not to mention the fact that Sunday inevitably rolls around every week without fail. As soon as one sermon is finished, chances are good I’m already thinking about the next one…
What makes the story of Jesus on the cross so compelling is that Jesus didn’t want to die. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup of his death would be taken away from him. And yet when it became clear to Jesus that his death was imminent, Jesus never shied away. Jesus endured, he persevered, he suffered, he finished the task God required of him.
So often, we try to domesticate God. We put God in a box and tame God as a way of trying to understand God while still maintaining the illusion that we are somehow the ones in control. But God in Jesus Christ will not be tamed and incapacitated. On the cross, God decided, God moved, God suffered, and ultimately, God accomplished. Far from a sign of Christ’s defeat, “it is finished” was a bold and defiant cry of victory.
A generation or so ago, there was an old prayer recited during Communion which went like this. “Jesus offered there on the cross for us a full, sufficient, and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.” On the cross, God finished the work God began in the time of creation. Throughout history, God has loved us and reached out to us and intervened on our behalf in order to save us. And on the cross, God finally made it all the way back to us. It is finished.
How incredible is that? You and I, especially in this South Windsor community, pride ourselves on being high achievers. We strive for success and purpose and meaning. We work hard to be upwardly mobile. We set goals and we steadily climb the ladder of success.
But all of our human blood, sweat and tears fade in the limelight of what God has done. On the cross, God finished what God began. As a result, there’s nothing left for us to do.
What do you and I have to do? Nothing. Don’t we have to go to all kinds of church meetings and events? No, we don’t. We have all these problems we need to fix and all these issues we need to work through and all these responsibilities we need to shoulder…right? Actually, no. In the end, God has done the work for us. And it’s finished.
If you and I spent less time running around trying to get things done, we could spend more time sitting down and appreciating what God has already taken care of. Actually Lent is the time of year to be doing just that…
Be still then over these next weeks and see what God has done. Then give thanks to God knowing it is finished. Amen.