A reflection upon words of completion from the cross …
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
How often do we actually ever finish anything?
One of the reasons why clergy like to do domestic chores is because there’s a feeling of accomplishment, or completion.
When I’ve done the laundry, I can see what I’ve done.
In other areas of life? Much less so. As a priest, I often see only portions of people’s life stories. They come, I do what I have to do, they go. Sometimes I see them again, sometimes I don’t.
When I was a hospital chaplain this was especially acute – no further contact was permitted unless a patient initiated it (occasionally, but rarely, they did).
The Bible, especially in the gospels, is a bit like that.
We wonder and speculate about the peripheral characters, who come into the picture, say or do what they do, and then disappear.
What about Jesus?
When John tells us that Jesus died saying, ‘It’s finished’ we may find it natural at first to hear it as if it was ‘It’s all over’. After all, this is a death, a terrible death, a death in what looks like defeat and loneliness. But in the context of the whole gospel of John, it’s very plain that we should be hearing, ‘It’s all done.’ This death is not just a ‘passion’, something that is suffered or endured. It’s an action, an action that completes a life’s work.
Jesus really did manage to accomplish what he was sent to do – really did manage to complete it. Even as he was dying in pain on the cross.
When Jesus dies, there is nothing more to be said about the relation between God and human beings; no-one can add anything or take anything away. And yet, for this to become a reality in and for every human being is going to take the whole history of the world.
The one thing we can say with absolute confidence is that Jesus’ life is never over, never something in the past. If his life were over, that would mean that he was no longer active, no longer a person making a difference, but only a memory – vivid and inspiring, but at the end of the day just something in our heads. But no: he is always alive, continuing to call people to him, to heal them and transform them. We never fully know where and how he’s going to be found at work. It’s safest to expect to meet him anywhere and everywhere.
So be alert. It is finished. But it is still being finished, in what we say and do, in and through our lives.
(With thanks to Roman Williams for inspiring part of this.)