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

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