In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
About 10 years ago, I took an unlikely job as the Youth Minister at Church of the Good Shepherd in Acton. I call it an “unlikely” job, because I had never really done anything in youth ministry before then and in fact I didn’t even like my own church’s youth ministry program when I was growing up. So the whole thing was really quite a stretch for me. But it was a good opportunity to develop some skills that were “dormant,” to say the least.
While much of my ministry there was exclusively youth related, I did have the occasional opportunity to branch out some, including preaching and serving at the altar. One of the opportunities to preach was at the town’s ecumenical Good Friday service—one of those infamous three-hour services focused on the “seven last words” of Jesus. Of course there are not really just seven words, but more like seven phrases, that the gospels tell us Jesus spoke from the cross. As much as I find our Anglican liturgy for Good Friday rich with meaning, I always liked that ecumenical service for the opportunity to hear the differing voices and perspectives of the various religious traditions in town.
For me, the most stirring of these last words have always been Jesus’ very last words: “It is finished.” I’ve often wondered, what did Jesus mean? Was he feeling complacent, or defeated? Did he mean that his life was finished? That his work was finished? Or something else?
As I’ve pondered these words this week, as I have thought about Jesus’ life and ministry, I think that what he must have meant is that he’s done what he can do. And that’s enough. The rest is up to God, and maybe even up to us. Jesus has loved as fully and freely as he could; he has taught what he could teach; he has healed those who were ill; he has opened his arms as wide as possible, even to the point of being nailed on the cross. He has done what he lived to do.
The question is, how will people respond? How will we respond?
Because, as we know, Jesus never forces anyone to believe in him. He never coerces us to accept his love. He doesn’t just heal people who have no desire for it. For good or ill, it is always up to us. It is up to us to say yes to Jesus’ love. It is up to us to accept the grace and the hope and the freedom he offers us. It is up to us to continue the work that Jesus devoted himself to—loving, healing, teaching, living for God.
You know, I can’t believe that Jesus lived the way he did—so openly, so passionately, so fully— that his life, his work, his very being would die up there, nailed to that cross 2,000 years ago. Instead, I believe that he knew that if his life were to have meaning, if everything that he lived for were to really take root and grow—it would have to be through his friends, through his disciples, through us. And so, it’s not enough for us to gaze up at him on the cross, his body broken, his life torn away—a horrific and jarring sight.
We are not meant to glory in Jesus’ death, nor even, I think, be appalled by it—though appalling it certainly is. We are meant to be transformed by it, taking up our own crosses each day and living in the way that Jesus lived. Loving in the way Jesus loved. Healing in the way Jesus healed. When he said from the cross, “It is finished,” he passed his ministry on to us. He had done everything he could do, as a man, and as the Son of God.
And he knew that we, together, his community, his kingdom, his body, could do even more. If only we are brave enough, if only we are daring enough to respond. Together, inspired by him, empowered by him, blessed by him, we, too, have the power to heal and teach and love, just as openly, just as fully, just as profoundly. When Jesus looked down from the cross on the world he loved, on the people he loved, he knew that he couldn’t do any more. But he also knew that his life couldn’t end there. He knew that it couldn’t and that it wouldn’t, because the seeds of his life, the seeds of new life, were planted in his friends, in us.
It is finished, Jesus said. And yet, through God, and through us, his work, his life, his love, live on and on and on.
Let us pray,
Lord Christ, who entered into your triumph by the hard and lonely way of the cross: May your courage and steadfast loyalty, your unswerving devotion to the Father’s will, inspire and strengthen us to tread firmly and with joy the road which love bids us take, even if it leads through suffering, misunderstanding, and darkness. We ask it for your sake, who for the joy that was set before you endured the cross, despising the shame, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.