Friday, April 13, 2001

It is finished.

It is fulfilled.

It is handed down.

In our Lenten Study here at Nativity, we have read and reflected upon the last words of Christ. This past week, the subject was these very last words of Christ in John’s Gospel: It is finished.

When Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit in the Gospel according to John, he had given his all and fulfilled his work.

In his death on the cross, Jesus completed his redemptive work. As our first lesson today tells us, he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our inequities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises, we are healed.

The crucifixion marked the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission.

The author of the book of Isaiah proclaims that the Lord said “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and came into the world, and did not return until that which God purposed had been fulfilled. Jesus watered the earth with Living Waters. Because of him, the earth brought forth, and his disciples are the seed to the sower and bread to the eater. God’s word went forth and did not return empty. It is finished.

And even as it is finished, it is just beginning.

After the sermon, the order of service for Good Friday continues to the Solemn Collects, in which we pray for all people according to their needs. If it is finished, why would we do that? Why would we pray for all who minister, for all who take counsel for peace, for all who sorrow and all who serve them, for all who preach the Gospel, and for the mystery of the Church?

The salvific work of Jesus is finished in his suffering unto death, but the work of his followers, the work of those “many made righteous” by his death, those whose inequities he bears, whose diseases he carries, those whom He makes whole – their work, OUR work – begins under that same cross.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, he said to this mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

After this, all was finished for Jesus. And all had just begun. The cross is now ours to bear. Jesus said that those who would be his disciples should take up their cross and follow him.

And thus, with God’s help, with the help of Jesus’ death on the cross, we now continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, in the prayers, in resisting evil, and repenting and returning to the Lord when we fall into sin. We continue to proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ. We continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and we strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

These words come from our baptismal covenant. But remember, in the waters of baptism, we die with Christ. Our baptism is our participation in the passion of Christ, in the fulfillment of his work, and thus in our mission that he hands down to us. The cross, then, is tied closely to our baptism, and to our work. Like Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple, we leave the cross, we leave our baptism, with new work, a new role.

Jesus’ walk to Golgotha, cross upon his back, led to the end of his work. Christians walk away from Golgotha with their work before them, and God’s saving grace to empower them.

Without that grace, none of us could walk from Golgotha. But even with grace, that road is not an easy one. Pilate was told, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against emperor.” How much more true is this if we not just release, but follow this King? To follow Jesus will lead us into conflict with the emperor, with the powers and principalities, with the prevailing culture.

As we bear our cross, as we live out the vows of our baptism, we are called to work for many difficult, often unpopular ends. Some of the ways the Church has identified to strive for justice and peace for all people are outlined in the social policies of the Episcopal Church, which are collected and distributed by the Episcopal Public Policy Network.

We may not be scourged, may not be crucified, but we will need strength from God as we strive for such ends as enacting a living wage for all people. For striving to eradicate hunger. For encouraging low-cost housing. For overcoming racism. For extending civil rights protections to gay and lesbian people. For bringing about an international ban on land mines. For striving against the use of nuclear and chemical weapons. For advocating for refugees, and for the homeless, and for all those who are marginalized. And these are just the beginning of a small sample of the social policies of the Episcopal Church. If you want more information, there is a poster on the bulletin board in the narthex with post cards you can send in.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network gives us one tool to strive for justice and peace through the policies that shape our public lives. And how we contribute to the shape of our public life is one part of the word and example by which we proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. But the cross is ours to bear in all that we do. Our whole lives are the word and example through which we are called to proclaim the Good News. How we work, how we interact with friends, children, parents, strangers, drivers, pedestrians, the powerful, the powerless, and all in between – in all things, we bear the cross, and our lives proclaim the Good News.

When we see the cross, we recall that we are joined to it through our baptism. When we see the cross, we recall the completed, fulfilled work of Jesus. We recall how Jesus gave his all in fulfilling the work for which he was sent. And we recall the ministry to which we are called through our baptism, the unfinished work with God’s help of proclaiming through word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

It is finished. It is begun.