I was commenting to my wife a couple of days ago that the three hardest seasons to preach are Christmas, Easter and Pentecost—how do we find something new or fresh or engaging year after year after year. Yet, in spite of my consternations and anxieties, God always provides the approach or tact I need to take in telling the old, old story.
Like others in my Narrative Lectionary group, I struggled with which passage from John to share for our Good Friday service. I settled on 19:16-30...a continuation of where we left off a couple of weeks back. Why not continue the story?
v. 16-22 – Jesus is handed over for crucifixion. Pilate plays his part declaring Jesus “King of the Jews.”
v.23-24 – Soldiers divide Jesus clothing among themselves, cast lots for the ‘seamless’ tunic.
v.25-27 – Jesus entrusts the care of his mother, Mary, to his disciple, John.
v.28-30 – Jesus dies. He is thirsty...takes a last drink...and dies. “It is finished.”
Thoughts and Reflections—
“It is finished.” In addition to being a pastor, I am also an English instructor at our local community college. As an English teacher, I take an interest in all thing ‘grammatical.’ So, when I come to these final words of Jesus in John, I cannot help but ask, “What is ‘it’ that is finished?”
‘It’ is a pronoun—a word that takes the place of a noun. Pronouns allow us to converse without constantly repeating the topic, subject, person’s name, etc. For example, without pronouns, we’d have to talk like this: Hi, James! How is James’ dog doing? Has James’ taken James’ dog for a walk lately? And, how is James’ mother? Awkward, right? So, we are very thankful for words like ‘you’ and ‘she’ and ‘it.’ The word that the pronoun stands for is its antecedent: Hey, Mike. How are you? The antecedent of ‘you’ is Mike.
It is finished. What is finished, what is ‘it’? What is the antecedent of it?
When we lived in Venezuela, our oldest daughter, Jess, turned 15, and as is common in many Latino cultures, at age 15 there is a big to-do—la Quinceañera. We had a great party and feast for Jess...something like 80 people of all ages. Things got started around 8pm. There was dancing, food, speeches, more dancing, a cake, more food, more speeches, more dancing. When my wife and I finally got home around 3:30am, you better believe we exclaimed, “It is finished!” The party was over, the task was complete, the project was done. Is that what Jesus meant? He had come, he had preached, he had inaugurated the Kingdom, he had healed, he had taught...and was it now all done? Was he declaring a project over, completed, finished?
In April of last year, Ms. Ofelia called together a volunteer VBS team and divvied up the tasks: Ms. Dina and I would tell the Bible stories; Ms. Jeanne and Ms. Roseann would lead the music; Ms. Brenda and Ms. Cynthia would plan and purchase food; Ms. Erin would head up the decorations (obviously, without faithful women, nothing would happen in our church!) We got everything going, and the people started working on their areas. On the Sunday before VBS was to begin in August, we all gathered one last time in the Methodist Community Center. Erin had decorated the place amazingly. The kitchen was stocked, the fridges full, and everything was laid out. The Bible Story Corner was set up. The music area was ready—sound-system, video monitor and all. As we looked around, we knew that all the preparations were made. All the plans had come together. Everything was ready. With a wonder sigh of relief and anticipation for the start of VBS, we could all agree, ‘It was finished.’ Is this what Jesus might have meant? Had everything been prepared and was his death the last stroke that would initiate something amazing?
Our Lenten season draws to a close. For some, this has been a time of self-denial, self-sacrifice—some 40 days of no caffeine or no sugar or no meat, or some 40 days of daily Bible reading or meditation or prayer. As it comes to an end, some will sigh and say, “It is finished.” Done. Over. Back to normal life now. For some, this has been a time of self-denial, self-sacrifice—40 days of prayer, meditation, Bible readings, or 40 days of dietary restriction. As it comes to an end, these will sigh, smile and say, “It is finished...the time of preparation is over. God, use me now to impact lives, to strengthen our congregation, to change our community, or to touch one person’s life.”
For Jesus, either his project or his preparations were done—probably both. How about for you? What does “it is finished” mean for you? Could this Good Friday and Easter weekend be the end of a chapter in your life...and the beginning of something completely new? The work of Jesus on the cross was exactly that for us—the end of the old covenant, the beginning of a new covenant; the end of guilt and self-loathing, the beginning of forgiveness and God-praise; the end of alienation from God, the beginning of a new relationship with God. So, what is this day, this season, for you?
It is finished.
As always, I wish you all the very best in your pulpits, at your podium or on your bar stool this weekend. This will be a full weekend for many of us, but let us never forget—Emmanuel, God is with us. Amen.
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)