When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Profound theological meaning is buried away in these two verses, meaning that bears continuing fruit for our lives and for the church.
First of all John would have us understand that Jesus does not pass away. He does not surrender life in order to avoid additional pain, or acknowledge any defeat. Nor is his life taken from him. Indeed, no power on earth or in heaven could wrestle the spirit from Jesus. He gave up his spirit a final free and generous act at the moment of his choosing, when it was finished.
To many this claim is absurd or at best tragic. Clearly life was wrested from Jesus first by the under handed betrayal of Judas, then by unremitting perversion of the force of law including unwarranted arrest, false witnesses, prejudicial priests, an ignorant rabble, a cowardly judge, penultimately by soldiers who nail him to the cross, and finally by the mortal failure of his own bodily strength.
In this view nothing is finished except another miscarriage of justice, unnecessary additional proof that death is the final judge. A fact that serves as explanation enough for us to do unto others or leave undone as we will.
Rejecting the tragic or absurdist positions, John shows Jesus in control, exercising power and making decisions, going so far as to encourage the armed guards after they fall down at his arrest, forbidding his disciples from interfering, confronting the high priest with his blind hypocrisy, contradicting Pilate’s misguided claim of authority saying, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above,” working even on the cross to make a new family between his own mother and the disciple that he loved, judging the moment when all is finished, then purposefully giving up his spirit.
In John’s telling, the very tools of injustice wielded in darkness by powers of darkness sharpen the revelation of God’s purpose in Jesus for us.
So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “It is finished?”
To begin to answer that question it helps to remember the beginning of John’s gospel is a reinterpretation of the Genesis creation story. Genesis, as you may recall, tells us about the beginning of creation, not it’s perfection. God may be perfect, but the human beings made in God’s are far from it. Which is first made evident when Adam asks for Eve to complete him. And becomes crystal clear when Adam and Eve fall to the serpent’s temptations. Cain kills Abel. And so on. Humanity is flawed. Nevertheless a loving God’s patient shepherds his people, preparing us in stages to desire and search and find the solution only God can give.
Now also remember the sixth day of the Genesis creation story, which we call Friday, is the day God chose to make humankind. It is no coincidence that Jesus says, It is finished, on a Friday. Because what Jesus finishes and perfects on the cross is a truly fruitful human life lived in loving obedience and service of God.
But there is more.
As Adam was created to be the first of the human family, so Jesus is the first of the new human family. On the cross Jesus finished the beginning of this new human family, gave up his spirit in order to share it with all of us, multiplying its power by giving us power to become children of God, God’s spirit dwelling in our hearts, a new birth not of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John shares a glimpse of that new family of God in the relationship Jesus makes between Mary and the disciple he loved. He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
In the face of every power of darkness denying his any dignity, power, or purpose, the Lord of life calmly plants the seeds of the new human family of God that will flower out of the ground tilled and fertilized by his life giving blood.
So this is the message for us. That where the world so often sees the end of the story, and judges life as failed, tragic, meaningless, absurd, the children of God born of the spirit of Christ and fed by his body and blood look with open eyes and hearts for the opportunity to make new acts of divine love through the way we respect and care for and love one another, and especially for the least of those among us.
We who are blessed to gather today as members of this ever-expanding family, know it is not for any perfection of our own that God loves us and calls us into life and dwells with us.
The love poured out on the cross is equally for Pilate, the soldiers, the priests, and all those who betrayed or denied him then, and for all of us when we fail him now.
It is not for us to boast that we are members of his Body, or to judge those who seem blind to God, but rather to praise and thank and pray to God for wisdom and courage to keep turning the great sorrow of the world into new opportunities loves redeeming work.
It is for this faith, this vision, and the blessings of these opportunities to serve and further the work of Christ that we call this Friday Good.