Finished: A Sermon for Good Friday
Shrewsbury Ecumenical Good Friday Service, March 24, 2016
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. ~ John 19: 28-30
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the door.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I am the true vine.
I am he.
I am thirsty.
It is finished.
Let us pray: Holy One, draw near to us as your people draw near to your Holy Word. Fix our eyes on your cross and draw all people to You. Amen.
No innocent death is ever good, even on this Friday we call Good.
There is no trivializing Good Friday. Today is a day for truth telling, for the audacious claim of Christianity that God in God’s self dies. Or as the poet John Donne said “What a death were it then to see God dye?”
Good Friday is the fickle rawness of March in New England, not the dependable warmth of June.
Good Friday is all open welts, and hard edges, and splinters of wood, neither the intimacy of a meal and wet skin of Thursday Night nor the bright hope and smooth stone of Sunday morning.
Good Friday is blood, and sour wine, and sweat.
There is nothing polite about Good Friday, a day when the decorum of respectable bodies breaks down into bruises and bleeding and groans and nakedness. You can try to stay on the surface of Good Friday, but it will pull you deep down.
There is little peaceful about Good Friday, a day when the powers of Empire reign supreme, and state-sponsored violence is put on public display. Good Friday is no quiet execution in a back room, but a spectacle, a breaking news scroll, a warning for all others who would challenge the powers and principalities.
There are no Good Friday greeting cards. There are no Good Friday chocolates. There are no Good Friday new bonnets or shined shoes.
Good Friday is not for the faith of heart. It asks of us more than a fondness for a moral exemplar, healing servant, wise man. Jesus asks, will you go with me to the court, the cross, the tomb? Good Friday asks more questions than it answers. Good Friday asks “Were you there?”
We were. We are. Good Friday is the day when we stay seated in our suffering. We sit with it. We sit through two chapters of John’s Gospel to get the full, hard truth of the audacious claim of Christianity that God is so invested in our life and suffering to have lived and suffered, too.
Today, our prayers are long. We trace the suffering over every corner of the globe and every crack of our hearts. We drape ourselves, we drape the cross in black; we Gentiles learn to “sit shiva” on Good Friday.
Good Friday is unflinching.
When I was a child, I went to the newspaper where my father worked. Like granite pillars, two tall beige metal filing cabinets stood sentinel, filled with obituaries. These were not yet the stories of the dead, but filled with the stories of the living. All of their life, written out, ready to go, except for that last paragraph and the date of death.
It is hard to look at this much death. Those full file cabinets seemed like they would topple over on top of me. We are unaccustomed to this discipline of looking death in the eye, and not looking away. Good Friday is a staring contest.
Maybe, maybe some of you have practiced this, this looking at death, abiding with the dying you cannot save. Maybe you have sat for hours at the arm of a spouse, a child, a neighbor as they approach their last breath. Maybe in your grief you’ve contemplated all that was done, and all that was left undone. Maybe you care for the sick and the dying, strangers entrusted to your care. Maybe you’ve been to war, and the memories of death wake you still in the night. Maybe in your depression you saw your own suffering, a malady so strong as to confine you to your bed and make a cave of your room. Maybe you waited outside the door.
It is hard to look at this much death. We turn the newspaper over in the recycling bin so we do not have to see the grief of travelers in the Brussels airport whose attempts to get home turned into a scrum of death We shield our eyes when photos of American soldiers torturing prisoners at the Abu Graib prison cross our television screen. We scroll past the photos of dead bodies of desperate immigrants on the shores of Greece with the remains of punctured rafts twisting at their feet, like the divided clothes at the foot of the cross. We pause the video of yet another young black man being shot because we’ve seen it all before.
It is both too hard, and too familiar to look unflinchingly upon death. We either rubberneck death or deny it. Good Friday trains us to look at suffering, not alone, but gathered at the foot of the cross.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus knew this death was coming. Everything had already been written. I am the bread of life. I am the true vine. I am the good shepherd. Before the world was, I am.
Everything had been written, except for that last paragraph.
When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, “I am thirsty.” He spoke this to fulfill the scriptures. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is in control. There is no cry “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” like in Matthew and Mark.
Instead, Jesus writes the final sentence: “It is finished.”
For all of us who are not in control of our suffering, our shame, our vulnerability, Jesus is. Ego emi. I am.
Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
“It is finished”
Sin is finished.
Shame is finished.
Death is finished.
This frail and vulnerable body is finished.
Our God did not flee the superlative suffering of the cross. There is no secret escape hatch for the Holy One. God stays until the end, until it is finished. God does not blink in the face of suffering, but stays there, unfailing, unflinching.
Jesus’s last word was just one word, Τετέλεσται (tetelestai) from Teleo- third person, perfect passive indicative.
It is finished.
It is passed.
It is accomplished
It is complete.
It is complete: There is nothing Jesus needs from us to finish this work. In the completeness is also the singularity: Once and for all, and never again. No more of this. No more torture. No more executions. No more Empire. No more public shame. In the completeness of the cross, God says, this is not my way. In the completeness of the cross, God says, we are not doing this again.
The God who knows even the number of hairs on your head, this God too, has experienced the fullness of our human suffering, so that what ever may come, what ever may be written next, our story doesn’t end alone.
We sing, “Were you there?”
Jesus sing, “I was there. I am there.”