It is finished.
We hear these words in many ways – celebration when something has been completed, resignation when something has finished. Here, these are the final words on Jesus’ lips – ‘it is finished’. The tone is not clear from the words on the page. Was it a gasp, a shout, resignation, desperation, completion, disappointment, anguish. It is the close of a chapter, assured from our view of history that there is another chapter about to open. ‘It is finished’ is a statement followed by a comma, rather than a full stop. Or, perhaps even better, an ellipse – those three dots that come at the end of a sentence, or sometimes in the middle of a sentence to indicate something is missing, before continuing on with the next idea. We know how it turns out, that the power of death is overcome, that risen life is just over the horizon. So we do not grow faint at these words: It is finished. For we know there is more to come in the next chapter.
But the disciples and followers of Jesus would have heard those words differently. It is finished. Ended. Gone. In the brutality of Empire, death was but a sideshow in the larger scheme to assert control and power. When breath was gone, when life was gone, when the body was left limp on the cross – then, any hope that had been nurtured and cradled, that things could be different, would have been cruelly and deliberately trampled under the boots of Empire. The lifeless body and the grieving mother – she could see it was finished. And yet, all those years ago, she had sung her hopes and dreams to him even when he was still growing within her body. But now body no longer carried life – it was gently lifted, carried, wrapped. All that touching of his physical body only brought home more deeply that the spirit that animated his life was gone, and that the dreams and hopes that had been fanned into flame had been extinguished.
It is finished.
The theology about the cross, lifting the cross up high, came much later. But here, the disciples knew that this cross was not an extra-ordinary place, but one where common criminals were executed. Publicly humiliated as they struggled for breath, a long slow tortuous death. The cross was just a means to an end for the Roman authorities, to put to death anyone who threatened the power and control and imposed order of Empire.
This day, that’s all the disciples knew. Because nothing could have prepared them for what happened that day – the trial, the crucifixion, the torture. Nothing could have prepared them for what they did – betrayal, cowardice, abandonment. But then they could never have anticipated that the man they had followed and loved for three years would be crucified so cruelly by the Roman occupiers – in cahoots with the religious authorities. It all happened so quickly. And now… it is finished. Everything had changed. Now, the disciples simply seek the solace of shadows – crushed, broken, defeated.
The pathos and tragedy of the death of Jesus hides for a moment the question that has been on the lips of so many since that time – It is finished? What is finished?
Take a moment. Look around the world. Look around! The world edges closer to disaster. Famine is taking the lives of innocents in Africa. Poverty saps the spirit of millions of people. Hate speech escalates, and denigration of others is emboldened and public. Violence, hate, oppression, and despair permeate the cracks in our global community. Trucks mow down innocent people in the streets. Bombs in subways and city streets. People’s lives ended in a flash while they are singing in church. Chemical warfare in Syria, with the image forever etched in my mind of a father holding his twin sons, their lifeless bodies looking like they’re sweetly sleeping. Weeping, as he buries them in the cold earth.
It is finished! For this? What happened to Mary’s song of freedom and liberation, of justice and mercy. What happened to the hope that things could be different? What about the reign of God that Jesus spoke about so often? Mary’s song now becomes the song on our own lips, of longing for the day when things will change, when the reign of God will be seen in the way people can live together with freedom, justice and hope, and be embraced by the Love we name as God and share that Love with friend and foe.
But for now we find ourselves in this godforsaken wretched day of brokenness, loss, grief, and sorrow. We need the courage to face it square on, for it is the lived reality of millions of people this day. Through conflict, war, the misery of famine, the deprivation of freedom, grinding poverty, the desperation of refugees. Ask, and they will tell you what this day feels like.
There are two others in this ancient story that allow us to enter through a back door. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who had been silent and discreet followers of Jesus, watching from the sidelines and shadows. Not for them the public display of allegiance. They were people of wealth and status, who had too much to risk in openly follow Jesus. And yet they emerged from the shadows in the very gap between Jesus’ death and his risen life. They are central to the story we share today, playing their part in the very moment when all hope seemed lost, when they had nothing to gain, and everything to lose. They remained with Jesus. They literally claimed him, not as the one who is Messiah and exalted, but as the crucified one. They gather him up; they bury him in the tomb. They hold the tragedy of Good Friday in their arms. They found the courage of faith even in the darkest of times.
I wonder if this offers a word of hope. For these two did not need to wait for the wonders of risen life, but dared to play their part in the Jesus story, even when there was so much risk. They found courage to be bold where they had not been bold before, to personally stare down the powers of Empire exercised by domination, persecution, and control.
We have countless examples of people who have played their part in God’s story through the ages, those whose selfless responses were in response to following the way of Jesus – even in risky and dark times. People whose names are widely known to the global community and whose legacy continues, as well as everyday people engaged for the common good in small and large ways.
I wonder which of these stories of courage and goodwill you treasure? These stories need to be told over and over, so we emerge from the shadows and find boldness in faith. For when all seems lost, we can depend on this: God is never lost to us.
It is true that we live in a world where the impending darkness and the constant perils make us want to draw back into ourselves where we can feel safe. But more than ever, those who follow the Jesus way need to step out from the shadows. To find the inner conviction that compassionate service is an inescapable response to the gospel – yes, even in the midst of darkness and disappointment. For the darkness and disappointment will always be part of our human condition, repeated over and over through the years, the centuries, the millennia. Let us name it for what it is, and then take our place as those who are hope-bearers, light-bringers. peace-makers.
Where we leave the Good Friday story today doesn’t finish with a full stop. It is those three dots… watch.this.space. We can with imagination and boldness be confident that God is up to something new. Hear the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah saying, ‘Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness’.
On the horizon lies risen life. It beckons us to new hopefulness. Let us hold onto that hopefulness this day, anticipating risen life that God prepares. And let us be those who give flesh and life to that hope, as we continue to enact the journey of discipleship with Jesus. May it be so. Amen.