Friday, April 22, 2011

It is Finished...

A few years ago, rather a long time ago I suppose when I really think about it, my dad asked me to speak at our Good Friday Service. It was quite an honor really. I can't say that I enjoyed the Good Friday services of my early youth. Back in those bygone Horse Creek days the speakers were all men, and most of them seemed overly excited by the opportunity to hear themselves speak. Probably they were nervous. After all, they were mostly working type men, not at all speakers, but it seemed to me that they would go on and on for hours and my child brain had trouble retaining any of what they said.
Maybe before I drone and on and on and get totally off subject I should explain a bit about these services. I realize that first paragraph really can't be called a well constructed paragraph anyway. If I was turning that in for a class or anything real I would be laughed at for putting so many different ideas together and pretending they were somehow cohesive. Anyhow, that's all beside the point.
So these services are a time to reflect on the 7 sayings of Jesus when he hung on the cross. It's a very profound time to really imagine the suffering he went through and to reflect on what that should mean to us in our lives today. I love taking the time to really meditate on these words of pain, suffering and victory, all poured out in the midst of the most intensely horrifying experience imaginable. It's not the sort of thing I love in a warm fuzzy sort of way, but in the way it impacts my soul every time I force myself to deal with these important truths.
At the service, Dad would always choose different people to speak about each saying. As I stated before, when I was a kid these were always men. Perhaps it was suited to the era and location. Whatever the reason, they didn't impact me quite the way they do now. Except I always looked forward to hearing Nancy Hood, the amazing woman who devoted months of her life to living basically in solitary confinement in a forest service lookout tower, singing "Were You There," in her mellow tenor voice. It was a haunting experience that has stayed with me from early childhood, and was later carried on by my sister Julie singing the song at the Blodgett services. It was also in Blodgett that Dad broadened the scope of the speakers he used. Soon it was a glorious mix of men and women of a variety of ages.
The year I was chosen to speak I was just back from my first year in Hong Kong, all raw with emotion, and uncertain about the future. (Yes, that's a pretty common theme for me.) True to his discerning character, Dad chose just the right passage for me to speak about. The misplaced English Major rejoiced in having the shortest verse, only three words, in which to pour all her thoughts and reflections. I knew I would have to present the topic in at least three different ways in order to really do it justice, and no doubt now I'd add even more layers.
I made one large mistake, however. When it came time to speak, perhaps it was out of foolish pride, I chose just to speak my thoughts, rather than to read the words I'd carefully thought out and typed up. I've always been better at writing things right than at speaking them. I'm not a story teller but a story writer.
So now I thought it would be nice to share the written version with anyone curious enough to read it.

John 19:30 "It is finished."

When Jesus proclaims, "It is finished," just prior to his death on the cross, the words take on a multitude of meanings. The word "finished" brings about a closure to all that has come before. Jesus' ministry is finished. His time on Earth as the Son of Man, is finished. The prophecies that have been spoken throughout time concerning the Messiah have come to an end, all of them having been satisfied in the life and death of Christ. Along with these finales, Jesus is closing the door on the sins of the world. His task on earth is complete. In his deepest moment of despair, these words are a sign of relief. The end is at hand as he "[gives] up his spirit," and leaves this mortal life.
In the book of John, much emphasis is placed upon Jesus' "in the role of the Jewish rabbi" (Thomas/Gundry 296). This can be seen in the entire passage on the crucifixion in his gospel. Throughout these verses he details all the ways in which Jesus is fulfilling prophecy. In verse 28, Jesus has gone through all that has come to pass and realizes "all was now completed." He then goes on to die so that scripture will continue coming to pass, by preventing his legs from being broken to speed up his death. This also led to him being pierced which also complied with prophecy. Jesus knew all that had been written about him before his birth. He knew what he must do in order to accomplish what he had come to earth to do. His comment that "it is finished," signifies his awareness of the moment that has, at long last, arrived.
There is more to be seen in these words than merely a completion of prophecy, however. These words can be seen as a sigh of relief. The past few days had been heavy on this man. He had been tortured and mocked. Though knowing he was innocent of any wrong doing, he was sentenced to a horrifying death that included being deserted by all those who had once been his friends and devoted followers. The hardest of all, however, was the burden of the sins on his shoulders, leading to separation from God. During the time he hung there, Jesus experienced Hell. As God cannot even look upon sin, Jesus was left utterly alone. It is impossible to imagine what this must have felt like. To go from total harmony with his Father, to no contact whatsoever is an impossible agony to fathom. It is not surprising then, as he hung there adding everything up in his head, that when he realized that all had been fulfilled he couldn't help sighing with relief that it was finished. All the work had been worth it and he was soon to be reunited with the Delight of his heart. This thought would have given him unspeakable joy. He is at a point where he has seen the bleak consequences of sin. Not only has he experienced the life of man, but he has seen where sin will lead. So he gives up his spirit with the knowledge that these people he loves so very dearly will now be able to experience eternal life with God. He has effectively paid the price for the entire world so that all might be free.
In my current position in life, I see another important element in this verse as well. While perhaps not as crucial as fulfilling prophecies, or as relieving as knowing that the separation from God will soon be over, and life has been attained for all who believe, I still think it is interesting to ponder the idea of Jesus leaving this life he has lived behind. Over the past year, I have experienced an incredible life. I have been able to reach out to the world in ways I have never before experienced. By taking care of the babies at Mother's Choice, I have come to look at Jesus life here on earth a little differently than I would have before. Jesus came to rescue us. He lived among us and looked after all our needs, just as I did with the babies in Hong Kong. In so many ways, we are just like those neglected infants. On our own, we are utterly helpless. While on Earth Jesus was able to give aid first hand to his wayfaring children. He was able to heal the sick, and inspire the downtrodden. He could see the needs of those around him, and reach out and touch them, watching the wonder on their faces as he handed them life. He loved them so deeply that when his friend Lazuras died he wept (John 11:35). When I had to leave my precious babies it was so incredibly hard. After caring for them for so long, it was hard to imagine leaving them. No longer would I be able to see to their daily needs. No longer would I know what was going on in their lives. While Jesus is still able to help us in our daily needs and reach out to our wounded hearts, I can't help but wonder if there was some pain in the thought of leaving them on their own. He already knew that there would be trials for them in the days to come. He already knew that Peter had denied him. Here he has given every thing for these people, and now he has to leave them to struggle along in this life without his visible presence. When he said "it is finished" he knew that all of this was over. There would be no more boat rides on the Sea of Galilee, no more walking on the dusty streets of Jerusalem, no more talking firsthand to the people he loves. I doubt that he was sad to leave. He was well aware that he would still be able to keep track of them all, still be there to whisper to their hearts through the Holy Spirit, yet a change was indeed taking place. One that will not be reversed until he comes again.
As I think over all these three simple words can mean, I am again in awe of all that Jesus has done. The exhaustion that he felt at the end of his life on earth is beyond any I can even fathom. He bowed his head with the knowledge that he had done a job well done. Along with that, all he could do was trust that people would see and believe. There was nothing more that could be done for those there watching. The time had come to leave them to ponder all he had done, even as he bore away all the evil of the world. What an amazing gift. What a heavy ending. It is finished.

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