Preached Good Friday, A+D 2009 (11 April 2009) at St George’s Anglican Church (CANA/ACNA), Colorado Springs, for a “Pan-Anglican” service of Good Friday meditations on Jesus’ words from the Cross.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“It is finished.”
For a minute, let’s look at earlier words from our Lord. “Who do you say that I am?” That’s the question that Jesus asked the disciples. He asked them this while they were in the middle of Gentile territory – surrounded by pagans and worshippers of idols – the very idols that St Paul tells us are really demons in disguise. And our Lord asked “who do you say that I am?” That may be the most important question every Christian – every soul – has to answer.
How we answer that question may be affected by the picture we have of Jesus. How do we see Jesus? Which Jesus do we see? Which picture of Jesus do we carry around in our minds and our hearts?
What is the picture of Jesus we show the world? Do we show the picture of Jesus we really see? Or do we see one Jesus and water down that picture, pretty it up, clean it up, before we show it to the world – before we show it to the people we work and study and play with? It’s easy to have a distorted view of Jesus. It’s easy to see a Jesus that only slightly, if at all, resembles the real Jesus. Is your picture the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, frolicking gently with little lambs in the pasture?
If that’s how you see Jesus – how you really see Jesus when you’re being honest with yourself – then I’m here to tell you that it’s time you grow up.
Is your Jesus anything like the picture that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote about when she said:
The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.
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What does this have to do with the words of Jesus: “IT IS FINISHED” you are probably wondering.
“Finished” is not our Lord saying “thank God THAT’s over!” In the first place, the word Telesthai/Consummatio mean not just finished, but added together, summed up, made perfect, completed.
The first time in scripture we see this word is the 2nd chapter of Genesis, when God was finished with creation. (The same Person, by the way, but that’s a sermon for another time.) We see it again in St Paul’s letter, where he writes that he has finished his race.
Completed. Made perfect.
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In his book Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings, Patrick Arnold, talks about why a lot of men seem to be “turned off” by Christianity. Arnold writes about role models for men straight from the Bible – like the Wildman (Elijah), the Warrior (Moses), and the King (Solomon), and he puts them all together to show that combining them, combining these strong masculine figures is Jesus – the ideal masculine role model – if only we show him the way he really is.
We have somehow forgotten that Jesus was a carpenter, working hard with his hands, probably very well muscled. Probably callused, as well. We have an image of a puny weakling for a shepherd, but we forget the shepherd had to be able to fight off lions and wolves.
Where did we go wrong? Part of where we went wrong is when some people were too frightened of the sheer power of the cross and ripped our Lord off it, leaving just a couple of bare sticks. Now, when I speak of the Cross, I don’t mean a couple of sticks shoved together at right angles. No, I mean the whole thing, the Cross-with-Christ-crucified on it, the wood of the tree bearing the body of God himself – what some theologians call the scandal of the cross –
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The oldest English poem, the oldest poem in English, is a Christian poem. Written no later than the 7th century, the “Dream of the Rood” shows us a different picture. It shows us a strong, warlike Jesus. It gives us a Christ who is a “heroic warrior, eagerly leaping on the Cross to do battle with death. Listen to these lines:
On shoulders men bore me there, then fixed me on hill;
fiends enough fastened me. Then saw I mankind’s Lord
come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord’s word
bend or break, when I saw earth’s
fields shake. All fiends
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself–he, God Almighty–
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
That Son was victory-fast in that great venture,
with might and good-speed
Here the Cross is the servant of God, forced by evil to be the instrument of death. But in a great paradox
The great warrior – the great hero – Christ leaps onto the Cross, mounts it as if he were mounting a platform,
battles death with the Cross, uses the Cross as his weapon to fight death into submission, defeats death once and for all and displays himself arms wide to the world to be the conqueror of the adversary!
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But it’s not just literature that shows us this picture. In Scripture we see it, too.
O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him
[Jesus said] Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
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We like to quote scripture at one another in odd ways sometimes. Often when the Church is under attack, from the secular world, or even from the enemy within, we like to say that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.” And that’s absolutely right. But look at that promise more closely. It doesn’t say “hell will not beat the church down;” it does say “the gates of hell will not prevail.” In other words, the defenses of hell won’t be strong enough. And if hell is on the defensive, it’s because the Church is not sitting back moaning about the struggles she’s having. Hell is on the defensive because the Church is on the offensive. The Church is supposed to be attacking hell! And we are promised that hell will not be strong enough to stand up under the Church’s offensive attack! The GATES of hell will not prevail!
This is hardly “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” This is more like Aslan – who, we are told, “is not a tame lion!”
What’s your picture of Jesus look like now?
St Rose of Lima said, “Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.”
St Paul gets the picture right, when he says in Galatians:
“far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
The Cross – The Holy Cross – is our one hope and our triumphant badge of victory. The picture of a mighty warrior destroying Death.
This is what the Cross is supposed to mean to us. The Cross is not some vague symbol; it’s not a sign;
it’s a picture and a promise. The Cross is the promise that the Church will triumph. The Cross is the picture of the defeat of death.
The Cross – the Holy Cross – is even more than that. It is the proclamation of the prize of victory. And making that holy sign on ourselves is not only reminding us of our baptism, it’s not only identifying us with the Crucified One, it’s like doing a victory dance, like a riverdance, stomping on Satan’s head!
In the gospel of John we see the only scene of the crucifixion written by an eyewitness, by one who was standing at the very foot of the cross right alongside his new responsibility, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and we hear Jesus’ declaration, and the spirit of those words was triumphant, a strong finale, when Jesus completed his earthly mission, saying, “It is accomplished – complete – made perfect!”
God’s victory – is – completed.
“It is finished.”
And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.