“It is finished” With these words, Jesus completes the work which God has ordained for him, and thereby punctuates the Passion story. Three words for us, yet in the original Greek, simply one…’tetelestai.’
I mention this not as a scholar or grammarian, rather as one who is amazed at how imprecisely we render the word in English. Paying attention both to the temporal effect, and everlasting significance, the Greek language conveys that this emptying, this oblation is at once a moment, but also a word which echoes meaning throughout time. We’re not to think that Christ’s final word is relegated to historicity, we may plot it on a timeline, but cannot hope to contain its profundity. By its very completeness, this word announces wholeness and offers ‘shalom’ to those who will hear it. He who is Very God, and Very Man breathes out with his spirit a final blessing to creation which calls all of us to join in his death, that we may await with bated breath his resurrection.
What changes in us when we hear the Son of God speak blessing at the moment of death? What happens to the bearers of tradition and liturgists when the passion is proclaimed? What occurs in the hearts of preachers, and those who hear?
As lost sheep, we may be roused from our complacency and amnesia long enough to say “not I Lord, I will never forsake you…” But do we fall asleep again, only to be awakened to our betrayal by the hollow sound of crowing?
In this final benediction by our Lord, we have a challenge set before us. First, we are meant to live the Passion of Jesus Christ with all of its power and its pain and its darkness—now, in this very moment. But secondly, perhaps more importantly, we are to understand that this offering of Christ is more than enough to cover any and all of our betrayals. In this way, we find solace in this word—this blessing—which amounts to the whole of our salvation, yet cannot be contained in any other words. Because the limitless power of Love which has brought the Incarnation into our world, Jesus into our lives, the Christ to the Cross, and us to that cross lingers forever with brutal grace which calls us again and again to repentance and forgiveness. This is true love.
By his final spiration—the Son of God, the Suffering Servant speaks an oracle of salvation for those who dwell in darkness and await a saving word. However, unlike Isaiah’s fiery coal from the altar, this resignation of Christ, breathed from his very lips, burns us deeply and cleanly so that with resurrected and new hearts we may believe, and hear again truly, “It is finished…”