Listen to it:
“It is Finished”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“When, therefore, He received the sour wine, Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ and after bowing [His] head, He gave up the Spirit” (John 19:30). It is finished, but it is not over. Have you ever been at a funeral and, as the pall bearers carry the casket out to the hearse, you think, “It’s over”? Depending on your relationship to the person who has died, that thought can be about as wrenching as it gets. At funerals, if we hear the words, “It is finished,” we think, “It’s over.” But not at Jesus’ death; not at the cross. This is no funeral for Jesus. This is no helpless surrender, no philosophical reflection on not going gently into that good night. This is His coronation. This is His victory march in front of all His enemies, as He defeats the devil, swallows our sin, and breaks the jaws of death forever. It’s finished, but it’s not over.
If it was over at the cross, we should not be here. Who celebrates a god’s death two thousand years on? If it was over at the cross, we would just be adding insult to the injury of our sin, and creating some sort of morbid guilt-trip. Which is what some people think we do. It’s what some Christians think we do, which is why they skip Good Friday and jump straight to Easter. It’s why we don’t like the Body of our Lord on the cross after today. We’ve had enough of the mourning, and now we want the happy thoughts that do not pierce us underneath our new suits and pretty dresses. But we are not mourning the death of Jesus! We rightly mourn our sin, which put Him there; we rightly mourn the actions we have done and left undone, the sins against God and against our wives and husbands, parents, children, and friends. We mourn that, and rend not our garments but our hearts. But we do not mourn His death. Jesus did not mourn His own death; He said to the women of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28, ESV). Despite The Passion of the Christ, the Father did not shed tears over Jesus’ death. As if Father and Son were acting out some macabre drama. Jesus says, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18, ESV). What the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit grieved was the horror of what humans could do. But it was not as if they were surprised. They were conspiring, underneath the horror, to deliver you and me from ourselves, from the fact that we could nail our God to a cross. Adam and Eve were ashamed at their own nakedness, but we have no shame before the nakedness of God. As St. Melito of Sardis said, “The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel. O frightful murder! O unheard of injustice! The Lord is disfigured and he is not deemed worthy of a cloak for his naked body, so that he might not be seen [and] exposed. For this reason the stars turned and fled, and the day grew quite dark, in order to hide the naked person hanging on the tree, darkening not the body of the Lord, but the eyes of men. Yes, even though the people did not tremble, the earth trembled instead; although the people were not afraid, the heavens grew frightened; although the people did not tear their garments, the angels tore theirs; although the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven, and the most high uttered his voice” (On the Pasch, 96-98).
All we can see is blood and death and a helpless hanging. All we can see is what is finished, what is over. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, ESV). Well, it is finished, but it is not over. After this victory on the cross, there is resurrection on the third day, and a life that cannot die. It is not over; there is a broken but glorious Body to eat, and shed but living Blood to drink. It is not over; there are so many who do not yet share in this life. It is not over; so we are here, mourning our sin before a crucified God, but only because He is resurrected. Only because the Lamb standing as though it had been slain (Revelation 5:6) is alive forever. Only we, who know the resurrection and the empty tomb, can rejoice in that death and in that cross. Only we, who know that crucifixion, can rejoice in the resurrection. We have no God but Him who was and still is crucified and resurrected. The scars remain on His glorified and ascended Body; His work is finished, complete. But it is not over. Because the day has not yet come when we have seen those scars and that Lord; when we have fallen on our faces like Thomas and cried out “My Lord and my God!” when our death-marked bodies have been raised by the power of the One who bought us with His blood: by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, whose Name we bear. It is finished, but it is not over.
In that Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/30/10