Welcome Text Week Readers

I am honored to have earned a spot on the regular roster of The Text This Week resources.  If you’ve landed here from there, thank you for clicking over.  My goal is to blog Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so if you’re here early in the week, check back.  Be sure to comment if you have thoughts, and sign up for email updates.

–The Rev. Steve Pankey

In remembrance of me

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There are a lot of ways to understand what is happening in the Eucharist.  Transubstantiation, Transignification, Real Presence, Memorialism, Receptionism, and the list goes on.  This theological murkiness has occurred, in part, because Jesus wasn’t all that specific in what he meant when he said, “this is my body,” “this is my blood,” and “do this in remembrance of me.”  Depending on one’s tradition, one or more of these phrases (or even the words within them) can be given undue influence.

In our Gospel lesson for Sunday, as well as the Collect for Easter 3, we are put to mind that, for Luke, the common meal of Christians, commonly called the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Great Thanksgiving, among other options, is about anamnesis: the remembering of an event based on past experience.  Cleopas and the unnamed disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread because four days earlier, they had seen him do the exact same thing.  Not that blessing and breaking bread was uncommon in 1st century Jewish life, but that this blessing, this breaking, was different.  It was the blessing of their Rabbi, now their risen Lord, who had commanded them to break bread and share the cup in remembrance of him.

Two thousand years removed from that first Last Supper, we who are people of broken bread don’t have the recollection of the past event to draw on for ourselves.  What we do have, however, is the unbroken history of bread being broken from a Thursday evening in first century Jerusalem all the way up to today.  Our remembrance, our anamnesis, is based on the shared experience of generations of believers.  We remember because we have been told the story by those who have been told the story… by those who lived the story.  When we pray that our eyes might be open, we are asking God to tap us into the ongoing unveiling of the story, that we might take our place in remembering and sharing the good news of the risen Lord.

Believing is Seeing

Audio of today’s sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or you can read the text here.


Lost in the busyness of Holy Week was a publication by the Gallup pollsters that once again reminded the Church of the importance of good preaching.  In a survey that asked people what factored into their decisions about church attendance, 76% of respondents said that “sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture” were a major factor in where they went to church.  75% also listed “sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life” as a major factor.  With no offense intended to my colleague Ken Stein, only 38% suggested “a good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music” as a major factor.[1]  These statistics are nothing new.  I’ve been hearing about the need for quality preaching since before I went to seminary.  Seminaries, to their credit, do the best they can within the confines of a three-year curriculum to help would-be preachers begin to hone their craft.  At VTS, we were required to take a semester and a half of homiletics during our Middler year.  Much to my benefit as a preacher, I had the Rev. Dr. Judith McDaniel for a full semester.  Judith’s teaching style matched me to a “T”: she is exceedingly Type-A and loves rules.  She worked hard to mold us into good preachers.  Her goal was to teach us how to “proclaim the gospel in such a way it can be heard by the head and the heart.”  Even though I violate most of them on a regular basis, including at least two in that last clause, I still have Judith McDaniel’s patented “12 Homiletical Norms” saved in my files.  I will never forget her number one rule in preaching: “Settle for one point, well made.”  She was so serious about the need for one clear point that without an obvious thesis statement in the body of the first paragraph, your sermon could not be graded as an A.

Having now violated that norm as well, I can say that I am in good company.  It isn’t until his Gospel is almost over (and some scholars think maybe it was over) that John finally gives us a clear statement of his purpose for putting the story of Jesus to parchment.  “These are written,” John writes, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  All the poetry, the signs, the discourses; all the time spent on the high priestly prayer and the Passion; all the details and the care with which he wrote them, were included so that we might come to believe.  It might feel like this thesis statement is simply an appendix, tacked on after the story has been told, but I think John decided to include it here on purpose.  This thesis for belief comes right at the tail end of a story that shows us what belief requires.

This story takes place while it is still Sunday, the first Easter Day, the first day of the week and the first day of new life.  That whole scene at the tomb that we heard about last week had just happened that morning.  John and Peter had seen the empty tomb and gone home when Mary came barging in, breathlessly declaring, “I have seen the Lord.”  And what did the disciples do with that news?  There was no Alleluia Party, I can tell you that.  No shrimp cocktail.  No champagne punch.  No cake.  Only fear, disbelief, and locked doors.  This pattern of testimony and skepticism wasn’t new.  Back at the very beginning of John’s Gospel is the story of Andrew who, after he had encountered Jesus, went to tell his brother Peter.  Peter needed his own encounter, and so off they went to meet Jesus.  The pattern repeated the very next day when Philip ran off to find Nathaniel who is famous for responding to Philip’s testimony with, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Belief based on the testimony of someone else proves challenging in John’s Gospel.  John knows that belief in Jesus is easiest with a personal encounter. [2]  But after the Ascension, John also understands that coming to faith based on the testimony of someone else is the norm, and so he wrote his story, that we might come to believe having never seen.

Back in that locked house on Easter evening, other than Mary Magdalene, we have no idea if any of the disciples gathered there actually believed that Jesus was really risen from the dead.  If anyone did believe, they were likely the most afraid.  When Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, it sealed the deal on his execution.  Imagine what havoc Rome and the Temple would wreak upon Jesus’ friends if he really had the power to come back from the dead!  Those who were still unbelieving likely had similar fears with the added thought of how awful it would be to get yourself killed for following some guy whose tragic death was made more pathetic when he wasn’t resurrected like he said he would be, but his body was stolen to perpetuate some ridiculous hoax.  The disciples had heard Mary’s testimony, but they couldn’t come to believe, when suddenly, Jesus appeared in their midst.

That morning, Mary’s encounter with the risen Lord was simply her name.  Now, the disciples were offered peace and his wounds, and like Mary, they rejoiced at the sight of their risen Lord.  Well, not all of them.  For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t there.  Like Andrew going to find Peter and Philip running off to find Nathaniel, the disciples went in search of Thomas with the Easter proclamation of Mary Magdalene on their lips.  “We have seen the Lord!”  Here is where most preachers will go off on a tangent about Doubting Thomas, but I refuse.  Partially because Judith McDaniel’s voice is reminding me that I’ve already failed pretty miserably at settling on one well-made point.  But mostly, I refuse to beat the dead horse of Doubting Thomas because I think calling Thomas “doubting” is a bad reading of the Scripture.  Thomas didn’t have any less faith than the rest of the disciples had shown the week before.  All he asked for was what Mary and the rest all received on Easter.  He wanted to see and touch Jesus.  Like everyone else in John’s Gospel, before Thomas could believe, he needed to encounter the risen Lord.

It took eight days, but Thomas got his chance, when back in that same locked house, Jesus once again appeared in their midst.  Again, he offered peace.  He invited Thomas to touch his wounds and asked him to give up his unbelieving ways just as the rest of them had a week earlier.  Jesus invited Thomas into a relationship, which is what belief is all about.  Believing in Jesus means that we trust that he is who is says he is and will do what he has promised to do.  It means that through his resurrection, we can enter into an ongoing relationship with him by following where he leads.

It is into this relationship that John hopes all of us will enter.  Both he and Jesus know how difficult that will be for those of us who would come later.  Unlike Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathaniel, Mary, the Ten, and eventually Thomas, we don’t have the opportunity to encounter Jesus face-to-face.  Much as we would like him to, Jesus isn’t likely to miraculously appear in our midst, offer us peace, and invite us to touch his wounds.  We who believe without seeing are blessed, Jesus assures us, because ours is a faith much more challenging to maintain.  The disciples came to believe through seeing.  We will have to come to see through believing.  Eventually, if we stick around long enough; if we can hang on to belief through its infancy; if we are open to the Spirit, we will have our own opportunities to see Jesus, to receive his peace, to feel his wounds, and to know the power of his resurrection.  Through belief, Jesus enters our lives, despite whatever doors we may have locked in fear, and we are blessed.  He enters offering peace, and invites us to abundant life in his name.  God knows, it isn’t easy to maintain an Easter faith without seeing Jesus face-to-face, but when we can, we are assuredly blessed in believing.  Amen.

[1] http://www.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3222

My Annual Plea for Thomas

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Regular readers of this blog will know that I grew up attending St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Lancaster, PA.  Underneath this grand stained glass window, I cut my teeth on the Book of Common Prayer, made a joyful noise in VBS, learned what it means to pray for one another, fell in love with that one note in “O Holy Night,” and even preached a time or two.  More than anything else, however, this window has remained in my memory.  It shows the risen Lord offering the wounds in his hands to Thomas with is usual symbols of the spear by which he was martyred and the carpenter’s square indicating his profession before joining the 12.

Despite the fact that neither Jesus nor Thomas appear to have eyes in this window, it seems clear that Jesus is looking at Thomas with compassion.  Despite what our common reading of the standard Gospel lesson for Easter 2 might try to tell us, I am convinced that the encounter between Jesus and Thomas is not one of rebuke by Jesus or doubt by Thomas, but of mutual affection and joy.  See, Thomas didn’t want anything more than what the rest of the disciples had received.  He wanted to see Jesus risen from the dead.  He wanted to know that it wasn’t some sick joke.  He needed to have some proof before he could give his life back over to the one in whom he had placed so much hope.  Jesus, for his part, seems more than willing to give Thomas what he needs.

His hope for Thomas is the same hope Jesus has for all of us.  “Don’t continue to be unbelieving, but believe.”  Jesus goes on to assure the many of us who would follow after Thomas and the others, that faith need not come from seeing and touching.  Instead, those who do not have the opportunity to see Jesus face-to-face are even more blessed by their faith.  Even so, we who follow Jesus may not see him physically, but if you stick around long enough, you’ll have the chance to meet him, to feel his wounds, and to know the power of his resurrection.

As you prepare your sermons for Easter 2, dear readers, please don’t wag your finger at Thomas.  Refuse to call him doubting.  Instead, offer him up as the example of all those who had the opportunity to see the resurrected Jesus in the flesh.  Remind your flock that while we don’t have that chance, each of us can meet Jesus in faith and be blessed.

Shalom, Eirene, Pax, Peace

The world of Biblical studies is constantly changing.  New archaeological discoveries breed new realities.  New interpretive lenses bring new understanding.  Whether it is the Canonical approach, the Historical-Critical Method, the JEDP Documentary Hypothesis, or the Jesus Seminar, scholars need to publish or perish, and so Biblical studies journals are filled with papers.  Some aren’t worth the pixels on the screen, while others will stand the test of time.  One that continues to carry weight (pardon the pun), is The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, common called Strong’s Concordance, which was first published in 1890, but continues to find its home on the shelves of preachers to this day.  Strong’s is basically a list of every word that appears in the Bible; all 8,674 Hebrew and 5,624 Greek words contained therein. It is a helpful tool for anyone who would like work in the original languages of the Scriptures, but isn’t exactly a Greek or Hebrew scholar.

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That’s one Strong neck beard!

Strong’s Greek word number 1515 is Eirene, the Greek word for “peace,” which Jesus speaks over his disciples in the opening verse of Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  One of the definitions of eirene, way down at the number five slot is “of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.”  How spectacular is that sentence?  Anyway, what struck me this morning is the reality of the disciples’ fear, and Jesus’ just as clear declaration of peace.

The disciples, despite having heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene that Jesus was raised from the dead, cannot find peace.  They are still very much stuck in fear, and are far from content with their earthly lot.  Whatsoever sort it is is still one of confusion, uncertainty, and the stark reality that the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant that the cross hairs of the Roman/Temple Alliance were aimed squarely at them.  Whether or not Jesus was actually raised from the dead, the fact that his body was missing from the tomb meant bad things for his closest companions.  They gathered in that upper room afraid for their lives, and Jesus entered the locked space, and said:

Shalom, Eirene, Pax, Peace

It’ll take several more encounters with the risen Jesus and a pretty hefty dose of the Holy Spirit before the disciples are able to find that tranquil state in which dying for their faith in the risen Lord isn’t something to be feared.  But on this night, the first evening of the resurrection reality, Jesus invites them to begin the journey.  He invites us as well.  In the midst of whatsoever sort of earthly lot are in, Jesus offers us the eirene of God that passes all understanding.  He invites us to find in him the tranquil state of the soul.

Searching in the Dark

Audio is available on the Christ Church website.


One of my favorite youth ministry games is called Sardines.  For those of you who are sadly unfamiliar with Sardines, it is something of a distant cousin to hide-and-seek.  Everyone gathers in a room while the first person heads off to find a hiding place.  After each passing minute, another member of the group heads out, in search of the first.  When you find that first person, you join them in their hiding place, until, smushed together like sardines, all the seekers but one are hiding in the same spot.  In my experience, the best time to play Sardines is around midnight, during a youth group lock-in, when the lights in the church are all turned off.  Well, at least that’s true most of the time.  A few years ago, in Foley, we had a college group staying in our education building while on a Habitat for Humanity spring break trip.  During one of their late-night games of Sardines, someone had the brilliant idea to hide in an upper cabinet in one of our classrooms.  It was the sort of decision one makes in the darkness.  It did not end well for the student or the cabinet.  Still, despite the occasionally foolish decision that arises after midnight, there is something exciting about seeking in the dark, as senses are heightened, and expectation grows.

On this Easter morning, we find Mary Magdalene searching in the dark.  After witnessing the gruesome death of her beloved friend and Rabbi on Friday afternoon, Mary spent all day Saturday searching in the dark.  How had it all gone so wrong?  Where were his disciples?  Why didn’t the fight for him?  Why didn’t Jesus come down from the cross?  Mary spent the Passover Sabbath lost in the darkness of fear, shame, and grief.  After what must have been another sleepless night, she couldn’t wait any longer.  She had to go see the tomb.  She needed a place to weep, a location upon which to pour out all her grief.  So, while it was still dark, literally before the sun came up, but more accurately, figuratively with the light of hope extinguished from her soul, Mary made her way to the tomb, searching in the dark for closure, if nothing else.  She fully expected to arrive in the garden, take a seat in front of the still sealed tomb, and pay her respects.  Despite having heard Jesus on multiple occasions assure his disciples that on the third day, he would rise again, nobody, especially not Mary, expected him to be anything but dead and buried.

Imagine her surprise when she finally got close enough to see the tomb and realized that the stone had been rolled away.  Still in the dark, Mary jumps to the only obvious conclusion she can imagine, someone has stolen the body of Jesus, her dear Rabbi, her confidant, her healer, and her friend.  I’m not sure she thought it was possible for things to get darker than they had been since late Friday afternoon, but in an instant the darkness got darker.  Searching for meaning, for help, for solace, quickly Mary ran to find Peter and John[1] to help her make sense of the growing darkness that surrounded her.  “They have taken the Lord!” she cried, and when the disciples took off running, she too returned to the tomb.

Surely, the sun had come up by now, but John makes no mention of it.  Darkness is still all around as Peter and John return home, having seen the empty tomb.  There is a flicker of hope, like a single flame in the midst of pitch blackness, in the belief of the other disciple, but that is quickly extinguished when all he can muster is to turn around and head home while Mary stays behind.  Still searching in the darkness, still weeping with tears that will not stop, still hoping to find Jesus’ body so that he can be laid to rest once more, she happens upon a man she assumes to be the gardener returning to work after the Sabbath.  Things have gotten so dark for Mary that she can’t even recognize Jesus when he is standing right in front of her, but with one word, everything changes.

Mary!

Suddenly, the light came flooding in.  The darkness of her fear was forced to flee.  The darkness of her sorrow was washed away.  The darkness of her hopelessness was put to flight.  Mary had searched and searched and searched in the darkness, and with a single word, she found the light of life.  Off she went, yet again, this time not searching in the darkness, but soaring in the light.  She found the disciples, still hiding in their own darkness and proclaimed to them the Good News of Easter.  “I have seen the Lord!”

I think one of the reasons that Easter continues to have such strong cultural significance, one of the reasons so many of us show up to Church this day, one of the reasons Facebook offers sharable Easter cards, is because all of us know what it is like to search for truth in the midst of darkness.  All of us have been where Mary was.  For some, our darkness comes as the result of the loss of a loved one.  For others, it is the destruction of a relationship.  For some, it is a struggle with addiction, illness, or anxiety.  Still others live in fear for where their next meal might come from, or find themselves anxious when there is more month than there is money.  Whatever it is that causes us to enter the darkness, none of us is immune to it.  All of us, from time to time, end up searching in the dark, and all of us hope to find our way back into the light.  Maybe you are still searching in the dark this morning.  That’s all right.  Even Peter, when he saw the empty tomb, wasn’t quite ready to believe that light was possible.  Still, we who have experienced the darkness of hopelessness, fear, and grief all gather each Easter because we know, deep down, that light entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ.  No matter how dark things might seem, we still gather and enjoy the brightness of the Easter lilies.  We worship with the help of brass and timpani.  We put on the pastel hues of our Easter finery.  And we make our shout, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

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But what then?  What happens when the seersucker gets put back in the closet, the bonnets get tucked away for another year, the ham bone gets made into soup, and the champagne loses its fizz?  What happens when the darkness comes creeping back?  What difference does Easter make come Monday afternoon?  That’s the story that is still to be told, the story that comes next Sunday.  As evening came that first Easter Day, the disciples had already locked themselves back into fear and darkness.  The light that had dawned that morning was already growing dim, when Jesus appeared in their midst.  See, the truth of Easter is that it doesn’t last only a day.  The power of Easter is available every day.  There is a reason our Easter Proclamation is, “Alleluia, Christ is risen” and not “Christ was risen.”  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The light of Christ that burst forth on the first Easter Day can never be extinguished.    The light of Christ that entered the world on Easter Day will never go away.  Come Monday afternoon, no matter how dark things might feel for you, Jesus will be there, walking alongside you as the risen Lord and the bringer of hope.

Like a good game of Sardines, all of us have ended our search in the darkness here at Christ Episcopal Church this morning.  My Easter prayer is that next time you find yourself searching in the dark, you can find your way back here, where the love of God will never be withheld, the light of Christ will never grow dim, and joy of the Spirit will never fade away.  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

[1] I follow the general consensus in assuming the disciple whom Jesus loved to be John the Evangelist.

Easter Vigil 2017

You can hear my Easter Vigil sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it here.


The Easter Vigil is the mother of all worship services.  In it, we combine the expectation of Advent, the joy of Christmas, the revelation of Epiphany, the sacrifice of Lent, the great celebration of Easter, and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost.  We gather on a Saturday night, when it doesn’t yet feel quite like Easter, but it certainly is no longer Lent, and we do what Christians have been doing almost since the very beginning.  We rehearse the story of salvation history, we welcome new members of the body of Christ, we make our shout of Alleluia, we offer our prayers for the world, we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed, and we break bread together.  There is room for precious little else in this service, which is why the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer call what his happening right now a homily rather than a sermon.  KISS is the name of the game.  Not, Keep It Simple Stupid, but Keep It Short.

As I’ve reflected upon my first Easter Vigil in several years, I find myself wondering why.  Why, Saturday night when Sunday morning is our habit?  Why, all the extra parts when it requires so much coordination?  Why, bother when it means a nearly two-hour service?  Why celebrate the Easter Vigil?  Our answer comes in the Exsultet, which Brittany so beautifully chanted for us earlier this evening.  We celebrate the Easter Vigil because “this is the night.”  This is the night of God’s salvation.  This is the night when God rescued the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.  This is the night when God saved all God’s people from their bondage to sin.  This is the night when God flung open the gates of hell and welcomed the faithful into life abundant.  This is the night, as the Exsultet says in the optional portion, “when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away… when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”  This is the night.  Moreover, we celebrate this particular night because, as Matthew’s account of the resurrection makes clear, Jesus didn’t wait until sun up to be raised.  “The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to allow the first witnesses in.”[1]  It is on this night that Jesus rose victorious from the grave, and so we gather to sing praise, to celebrate, to welcome the newly baptized, and to shout as loud as we can that Jesus Christ is risen.

It is a night, not just of praise and joy, but a night of teaching as well.  Unlike any other service of the church year, tonight, we hear the full story of God’s plan for salvation.  We’ve heard of the beauty of creation and God’s never-failing promise after the flood.  We’ve heard of God’s salvation of Israel and the prophetic promise of restoration in the last days.  We are reminded that our story is a part of God’s much larger story, and we are invited to find our place in it.  The Easter Vigil is, despite the inside baseball of paschal candle lighting and Exsultet chanting, an evangelistic service.  It might be the closest thing we Episcopalians come to a tent revival.  As we listen to the story of God, we are invited to hear where we fall into it, and then, like the women at the tomb, we are propelled out of this place, with alleluia on our lips and joy in our hearts, to tell the story: the good news of God’s saving love in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the night, my friends, the night of our salvation.  Rejoice, sing praise, and give thanks, for Jesus Christ is risen!  Amen.  Alleluia!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3226

It is finished…

One of my spiritual disciplines during Holy Week each year is to read John’s Passion narrative out loud at least once.  There is something about reading a text out loud that makes it real in a way that isn’t possible when it just rattles around in your head.  As I prepare for that reading, I take time to slowly and carefully study the text, looking for words or phrases that might be taking on new meaning this year; words or phrases that might need special attention.  This year, that phrase was “It is finished.”  While meditating on those words, I began to see them as a crystal, that as I turned, took on vastly different characteristics.  I began to see how, depending on where one stood in proximity to the cross, the words, “It is finished,” took on very different meanings.

For the soldiers who crucified Jesus, “it is finished” meant their day’s work was nearly over.  Surely, it hadn’t been an easy day, but it was work.  They had crucified thousands in a day before, so today wasn’t all that bad.  Still, this day was a little crazier than most.  The crowds were larger.  The angst seemed greater.  It all revolved around this guy in the middle, who had “the King of the Jews” on a sign nailed above his head.  They probably hadn’t killed a king before, but he couldn’t possibly be that anyway.  Nah, surely, he was just another in the long line of Messiah figures who had met their inevitable doom.  “It is finished” meant that life would go on as normal tomorrow.

For the Chief Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees, “it is finished” meant that yet again victory was theirs.  Jesus had been meddling in their affairs for entirely too long.  His following had grown way too large.  His teaching had challenged them to the core, and as a result, they had to get rid of him.  He was a Messiah figure.  They had seen plenty of them before, and they knew how to handle them.  Still, this Jesus character was a little different.  He spoke with such conviction.  He taught with such authority.  Even some in their midst had started to wonder if Jesus was who he said he was.  Now, their anxiety could ease.  Jesus was dead.  The only thing left to worry about was if his disciples would try to steal his body and fake his resurrection.  They had one last task: to make sure the tomb was guarded.  They hoped “it is finished” was actually true.

For the crowd, whipped into a frenzy by a week of confrontation between Jesus and the powers-that-be, “it is finished” meant it was time to make their way to the Passover Feast.  Some of them had toyed with the idea of following Jesus.  Others might have listened to his teaching for a while.  A few might have even been healed by him.  Like it did every year, the Passover week brought with it expectation and hope.  Sure, it would have been nice if Jesus had really been the Messiah, but they’d been burned too many times to really care.  Was the next Moses going to rise up and save them from the oppressive rule of Caesar?  “It is finished” meant the answer was no, not this year.

For John, James, Peter, and the rest of the disciples, most of whom had long since fled in fear, “it is finished” were words of frustration.  For three years, they had given their life to this man.  For three years, they had put their hope in him.  For three years, they had followed him around the countryside, studied at his feet, and watched in awe as he performed miracle after miracle.  For three years, they had expected that Jesus was going to bring them to Jerusalem, not to die on a cross, but to restore the hope of all Israel, and today, after all that anticipation, their hopes were frustrated when he didn’t come down from the cross, he didn’t stand up for himself before Pilate, and he didn’t call his followers to fight.  Instead, he willfully handed himself over to death.  “It is finished” meant that everything they had thought was true for the last three years was ultimately a lie.

For Mary, standing near her son, having endured the trauma of that dreadful day, “it is finished” were words of hopelessness.  Her son, her first born, her beloved child had been wrongfully convicted, hastily executed, and now hung lifeless on a cross between two common criminals.  These words were the culmination of a prophecy some thirty-three years earlier.  When Jesus was just eight days old, the devout and righteous Simeon blessed the child and his parents, but warned Mary, that one day a sword would pierce her own heart.  Today, it came to be.  “It is finished” meant that her heart was not just pierced, but cut in two by the sharp knife of hate, violence, and misunderstanding.

For Jesus, however, “it is finished” came with an ellipsis.  The physical suffering was indeed over, but his work had just really begun.  Over the next three days, hell was to be vanquished and the power of death would come to an end.  “It is finished” is a cry of victory, a statement of mission, and a call to action.  It is finished, but it is not over.[1]  Amen.

[1] I struggled with this sentence for quite a while and am grateful to Stanley Hauerwas for his article on ChristianityToday.com  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/marchweb-only/42.0c.html