It is finished. These are the last words of Jesus in the book of John. I’ve been thinking of how Jesus might have said these three words.
To state the obvious, Jesus has had a horrific week. Greeted as a Jewish savior when he entered Jerusalem, by Friday he is dying on the cross. Just in the last twenty four hours he has been arrested, tried, and beaten, mocked and humiliated. On an instrument of torture he has hung physically exposed, his body aching, his wounds bleeding, his throat gasping for water his life leaving him.
He could hold on no longer. He could do nothing more than die. Every cell in his body was exhausted and shutting down forever. His mother and closest disciples surely wanted his suffering just to end. Maybe they even whispered to him as we do at the bedsides of those we love who are dying, “It’s okay, it’s okay, just let go.”
Jesus let’s go. His last words might be the surrender of life. Exhausted, the very human Jesus bows his head and with a gasp releases his last breath with the words, “It is finished.” I’ve been at bedsides like this as a pastor. These words ring true to me.
There is another way to hear these words. For John the very human blood of Jesus is mixed always with the very real presence of God. The unique way John tells the story of Jesus reminds us that trusting this presence wholly as Jesus was able, makes his life look different than our own. Jesus is so sure in John that he is carrying forth the mission God gave him, that he seems unusually in control. You will notice this control in the details John provides compared to the other gospel writers recall of these last days. In John, Jesus doesn’t agonize in the garden over his fate. In fact he tells Peter, aren’t I meant to drink the cup my father has given me. Judas doesn’t betray him with a kiss. Instead Jesus searches Judas out and turns himself in. He carries his own cross to Golgotha in the book of John. Even in the midst of his agony on the cross, Jesus is in control, giving directions to his mother and disciples about living arrangements after he is gone.
Not to make light of it, but it is almost as if in this last week of his life he has a check list he is working through. Betrayed by a friend, check. Trial one, check. Trial two, check. Flogged, check. Humiliated, check. Single stitched tunic so that it can be gambled away, check. Dying before they can break my bones, check. Thirsty and offered vinegar, check. Talked with mother, check. Okay, I think I got everything.
In John 10:18, Jesus said, no one takes my life from me, I lay it down all by myself and in John that is exactly what he does. Jesus has done everything that the Father had asked of him. His very human life had been lived fully, completely and with purpose. There is nothing more that could be expected of him. This is like your healthy and spry 92 year old grandmother declaring at Christmas this will be her last and sure enough it was. Jesus proclaims, “It is finished,” meaning mission accomplished. Then he lays down his head and he decides to give up his spirit, to breathe his last, to die.
Which one is it? “It is finished.” Or “It is finished.” Not to be flip, but I guess it depends on what kind of day you are having. The beauty of John’s story telling is that we can hear both endings clearly, and we need both of them daily.
When we are hurting, lost and alone, there is rich comfort in knowing that God in Jesus understands our pain as only one who has suffered could. Because Jesus was humiliated, God knows what it is like when I am humiliated. Because Jesus hurt, God knows what it is like when I hurt. Because Jesus was exhausted God knows what it is like when I am exhausted.
Feeling alone is not a sign of our unfaithfulness. Suffering is not a sign of God’s judgment. Being ready to die is not unfaithful. Jesus didn’t nail himself to the cross, but he was ready to die when the time came.
Jesus is named Emanuel, God with us. God in Jesus on the cross experienced the pain, humiliation and finality of death. There is nothing we cannot bring to God that God will not hear through the prism of this experience. When this is how we feel, God knows, God hears, God stays.
God came to us in Jesus. This was the mission, the sole ministry of Jesus, to reveal God to us. God wanted to reveal God’s self to us, and the life and death of Jesus does this, completely, fully. Who is God? God is willing to love us even if that love is rejected, tortured, humiliated and executed. Who is God? God’s love is constant even when our love is not. Who is God? God is love but what does that mean? God’s love is the sort willing to die for us.
Every minute of every day that Jesus walked this earth, he revealed God to us. When that revelation was complete, when the picture drawn was done, the mission of Jesus was finished. He had lived life fully and now he could give up this life. He had done exactly as the Father had hoped. Death did not rob him of this ministry and mission or his humanity. He was most human, fully human when he breathed his last.
It is finished are our words, too. These words express our deepest longing, frustration and emptiness. These words are hopeful words for us, too. By living lives that meet the intention of God, saying yes to the ministry that is needed around us and sharing our gifts from God generously as God meant, we can breathe our last with the satisfaction that it is finished.
It is finished are the exhausted words of all humanity from life lived in this broken world. It is finished are the hopeful words of all humanity at a life that can be lived whole and full when lived in the purpose of God. Which way do you hear it? I think God’s hope is we hear it both ways. Amen