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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Good Friday 04/22/2011

It is finished.  In John’s gospel those are Jesus’ last words from the cross.  It would seem that any who heard those words would have heard them as, “It’s all over.  It’s been a good run, but it’s over.”  Words of defeat, words of surrender.  From a man dying on a cross what else could it be?  We had hoped for more, Jesus seemed to promise so much, he really did seem to have the power to change the world, but it is finished.

Of course the same three words spoken in a different context can be heard differently.  They could have been spoken by the Green Bay Packers a few months back at the moment they knew they had won, at the moment they knew they were Super Bowl Champions.  It is finished!  It’s all over!  An unlikely run through the playoffs ending in victory; it is finished, no more games to play, no more teams to beat.  The same words, but in a different context, a very different meaning.

We know that those standing close to the cross, those who heard Jesus say these words, whether they were friends or enemies, they had to have heard them wrong.  Because they were not words of defeat, although that was the obvious and logical conclusion; but we know more than they did.  Through the eyes of faith, through the ears of faith we know that Jesus’ statement of “It is finished” represents words of victory for us and for our salvation, victory on a very important level; but it’s not victory like the Packers winning the Super Bowl.  These are the words that put the good in Good Friday, but on Friday victory still may not be the best way to think about this.  Finished as victory has the tendency of rushing us a little too quickly to Sunday.

On Good Friday, “It is finished” is more about completion.  It’s Michelangelo putting the last touch of paint on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, climbing down the scaffolding and looking up at his completed piece of work.  Jesus’ “It is finished” is more like that.  It is the announcement of a completed work…but what a strange and unlikely piece of work it is. 

This piece of work that we reflect on today is the mystery that has confounded the wisdom of the world for 2000 years.  How can dying the death of a criminal on a cross represent anything but disgrace and defeat?  How can it represent anything called good?  How can it have anything to do with us and our salvation?  According to the logic of the world, it doesn’t work, it can’t work.  But that’s just it…we’re not dealing with the logic of the world. 

Jesus’ entire ministry was about upsetting that logic.  That’s one of the reasons he winds up on the cross that we contemplate today.  Those who represented logic and power were bothered by Jesus because he represented something they couldn’t figure out.  The world tends to kill those it can’t figure out so that’s what they did.  When the religious and political power brokers heard Jesus say, “It is finished,” they thought they had accomplished what they wanted to accomplish.  What they didn’t know was that even as he spoke Jesus was still upsetting the logic of their world, putting the finishing touches on something that they couldn’t possibly understand. 

It doesn’t make sense.  In my previous life as a school teacher in New Hampshire I remember taking a class of fifth graders to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  As we were walking around we went by a rather large painting of the crucifixion and one of the kids said to me, “Who’s that guy?  What did he do?”  You can probably imagine that I was surprised at the question just because you assume that even if someone doesn’t go to church, culturally they can’t help but be exposed to the basic stories of Christianity, but this kid wasn’t joking, he didn’t know.  To be honest, I can’t remember how I responded but I’m sure whatever I said it didn’t really make any sense to him, again because the logic of this world doesn’t cover it very well.  Regardless of what I said to him, it still had to look like it was most definitely finished for “that guy.” 

It is finished; in ways that we can’t explain except by telling the story, it is finished, the victory is won. In faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe that.  Jesus takes on death and powers that deal in death and drains the power from them.  Because of Jesus’ death, our own death doesn’t look the same.  In that respect it is finished; you could say that we have come to the end of the beginning.  But…just as Genesis tells us that God finished his work on the sixth day, that doesn’t mean that God from then on is detached and inactive.  We believe that the work of creation continues and that God is still involved. 

Jesus declares that it is finished, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over, for him or for us.  We live by the death of Jesus.  His death represents the fullness of his entering into all it is that separates us from God.  So by his death, we have new life; in that sense, for Jesus and for us, it is finished; by Jesus’ death we are made right with God which we can’t accomplish on our own.  We are a new creation.  But it’s not all over because we are not yet fully who God would have us be and the world is not all that God would have it be. 

We just sang Charles Wesley’s great hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” which may have struck you as an odd choice for Good Friday.  I chose it however, in part because I like it, but also because it fits.  In the last verse of his hymn Charles Wesley says, “Finish then thy new creation.”  Finish then thy new creation, that we may be lost in wonder, love and praise.

Jesus’ cry of “It is finished” places us in the already but not yet of Wesley’s hymn.  In the first three verses Wesley proclaims the divine, pure, unbounded, perfect love of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus.  That’s the already of this Friday we call good.  It’s the already of “It is finished.”  But in those first three verses Wesley also identifies the not yet of our troubled nature and our love of sinning and so the call to “Finish then thy new creation.”  Already, but not yet.

That’s where we are on Good Friday.  In ways that can’t be explained, the victory is won.  In faith we know that; to paraphrase St. Paul, God takes the wisdom of the world and turns it upside down.  In the horror and the blood and the apparent defeat of death, victory is won, it is finished; but God isn’t finished so we can pray in confidence to the same God who was involved in completing that Good Friday work, knowing that he is still at work in each of us.

We can pray to that God even in the absence of this day again, because we do know more than those who observed all this first hand.  We know that sometimes it is in our experience of absence that God is actually closest to us.  With Jesus’ cry of “It is finished,” in our ears, on this Good Friday with Charles Wesley we can pray for ourselves and for the world “Finish then thy new creation.”  We can pray in confidence that it will be done, it will be finished.

Let us pray

Heavenly Father we do give you thanks for things finished and for things yet to be finished.  We thank you that in his cry of “It is Finished” Jesus announces to us that we are made whole and right before God; we live by his death.  On this day we pray that you would continue your work in us enabling us to live out the life giving identity revealed to us from the cross.  In Jesus name we pray.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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welcomes me, and whoever
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