Thursday, April 14, 2005

Cross-Shattered Christ: Reflection on "The Sixth Word"

It is finished (John 19:30)

A quarter of the world’s population witnessed the funeral of the pope . . . I woke at 3 a.m. to watch with them . . . the pope’s last words may have been, “be not afraid” . . . when Terry Schiavo died, we heard no audible last words . . . famous last words . . . Jesus’ last words spoken on the cross as recorded in John were, “It is finished.” Other Gospels, Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

A shocking realization came over me recently when I realized something simple yet profound: the seven words of Christ on the cross were prayers.

For a few minutes this morning, I want us to reflect on the word of Christ, “It is finished.”

First, read the passage with the prayer, “Open not just my ears but all my senses this morning to your word.”

John 19:28-30
Jesus, seeing that everything had been completed so that the Scripture record might also be complete, then said, "I'm thirsty."

[29] A jug of sour wine was standing by. Someone put a sponge soaked with the wine on a javelin and lifted it to his mouth. [30] After he took the wine, Jesus said, "It's done . . . complete." Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.
The human spirit yearns to finish, to be finished, to be done.

Was Christ talking about the end of his suffering that day? Like a man competing in an Ironman race? Or was he talking about something more cosmic and apocalyptic? Was this that last gasp that Matthew and Mark record, that great cry before he died, and what does it mean? Was it merely a famous last word or does it mean something life-shaping to us?

In Uganda when something was used up, they said "it is finished." If you ordered chicken at a restaurant and the supplier hadn’t shown up that day on his bicycle with five live chickens tied to the back of his bicycle because he had to attend a funeral for his neighbor who died with AIDS, the waiter would come back and say, “the chicken, it is finished.” He might offer the aforementioned explanation if pressed.

So when my friend Oneka, who has HIV, hears the words of Jesus on the cross in English at least, he hears that life has been totally emptied. Nothing left. Africans, as do American Indians, often describe or name things by their actions. Dances with Wolves. In Africa, AIDS is often called SLIMs, a reference to the emaciated state of the dying. What would be the last words of the dying in Africa? Perhaps, "Life is emptied."

Prayer, said one saint, should be uttered as if you will die when the prayer is over. It is finished.

This word, one of seven of the classic words of Jesus from the cross, is simply put, a prayer. We often consider the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as his last prayer . . . he prayed in the greatest crisis, in terror and pain: Father forgive them. I thirst. Behold your mother. Behold your son. Into your hands I commit my spirit. It is finished.

What if we prayed this ourselves today? Lord and Father, the work you have done is finished. Now, send your servant into the world to proclaim it. What if our prayers were more urgently about the mission of God and less about our missing life or some privilege we think we deserve? As if life itself were teetering on the razor’s edge? Would we then be praying closer to the kingdom prayers than those “please God” prayers and “give me” prayers?

What if we prayed, “I am finished.” Religion is finished. Racism is finished. Subjugation of women is finished. My selfishness is finished. Sin is finished. Suffering is finished. Is it over? No, but it’s finished, emptied of its power by Christ on the cross who finished the work the Father sent him to do. It is finished.

Draw near to the cross and hear his words. The work that Christ came to do is finished, but as Hauerwas says, it's not over. It continues in us as the finished people of God. Creation’s end and consummation is Christ himself becoming human and suffering in every way as man. Only through him do we become “the finished,” the body of Christ.

Cancer can not undo us, neither can disappointment or fear. A child who strays cannot bring our faith to ruin. It is finished. Christ will draw all men and he will draw your child who seems to be running away. Church splits cannot undo us. It is finished. We are the done. Divorce and hate-filled emails and phone calls from the ex-spouse cannot unravel us. We are the finished, the body of Christ. We may feel undone at times, unfinished and certainly God is not through with us. It’s finished but it is not over . . .

It’s not over and we are witnesses to the beauty and power of the coming kingdom that we see with finished eyes by faith. Marantha, come Lord Jesus. It is finished. It is finished. It is finished.

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