A sermon for Good Friday.
“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
There’s a lot that we could focus on from that lengthy gospel reading this morning. But I want us to take a few minutes to reflect together on the very last words of our Lord from the cross: “It is finished.” And the question I want us to consider is this: What is finished? So, what do you think? When Jesus says “It is finished” what does he mean?
All good responses! Let’s have a closer look at the text to see if there are any clues. Where does our gospel reading begin? That’s right, in a garden. Where does our gospel reading end? Also in a garden. Now I want you to think right back to the very start of John’s gospel. How does John begin? “In the beginning.” Garden. Beginning. Where in the Bible does John want our minds to go? Right, Genesis. John wants us to know that the crucifixion of Jesus and the Garden of Eden have something to do with each other.
I know we didn’t read from Genesis this morning but let’s go ahead and think about the creation story for a moment. What happens in Genesis 1? Right, we have this creation week if you will. Seven days. Let’s start at the end. What happens on the seventh day? God rests, exactly. This is where we get the idea of the Sabbath from. The day of rest. The seventh day. For Jews, what day of the week is that? Saturday.
But today is Friday. Good Friday. The day on which our Lord was crucified. And if Saturday, the Sabbath, is the seventh day of the week well then that would make today what? The sixth day. In the creation week what happens on the sixth day? God makes humankind.
When we look a little more closely at the creation of humankind we see that there are a few things that set them apart from the rest of creation. Can you think of an example? “Let us make” rather than “Let there be.” In other words, we might say that the creation of the human being is a process, God’s special project, that is not completed by his speech alone (Behr).
So we can refine our answer to the question then. What is finished? Well, John wants us to know that it has something to do with the Garden and more specifically something to do with the creation of the human being.
Indeed, there is a line in the Bible that runs from Adam to Jesus. Paul, for example, calls Jesus the New Adam. So we might say then that the human project that was begun in Adam is brought to completion in Jesus. And specifically when Jesus is crucified, at least for John.
John has an interesting way of underlining this in our gospel reading. When Pilate brings Jesus out and presents him to the crowd what does he say? “Here is the man!” Anyone happen to know what the Hebrew word for “man” is? Adam, from which we get Adam. Jesus the New Adam. Jesus the man. “It is finished.” In other words, Jesus shows us what it means to be truly human by his suffering and death on the cross.
Now the first Adam’s job was what? To have dominion. In other words, to nurture and tend to the garden. To receive it with thanksgiving and offer it back to God in praise and thanksgiving. To grow up into maturity in God by loving obedience. And therefore to share in God’s life and love. Adam was a priest and the whole world was his offering. This was not only Adam’s job and destiny, it is ours as well. To know that our life is gift and to offer it to God in love.
Only, in the garden that didn’t happen. What happened instead? Right. We might say that the gift was rejected. Instead of receiving it as a gift they took the fruit of the tree as if it was theirs by right. Adam was unable to finish the work that had been entrusted to him. And the result was darkness and death, sin and the curse. Not only for Adam but for all of Adam’s sons and daughters. For all of us. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.”
But the gift of God is eternal life. Or as John put it earlier in his gospel: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Jesus comes into the midst of our enslavement to sin and death and he comes as the new Adam, and as the man identifies with us fully in the decay of our sin, though he himself was without sin. He comes as priest to take all of creation, every last mangled and death-kissed bit of it, up into his own obedient offering to the Father. That’s the message of the cross.
And Jesus did this not reluctantly but joyfully. Indeed, Jesus thirsts to do this. “I am thirsty,” he says from the cross. Thirsty for what? Thirsty to drink the cup that his Father had given him to drink (18:11). And notice, does Jesus die passively as a victim? No, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (19:30). He gave it up, his final priestly offering that brought all other offerings to an end.
Why? For us. “He was wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” (Is. 53:5). His wounds – your healing. His death – your life: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,” (Is. 53:11).
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is built upon the hill on which, according to tradition, Jesus was crucified. When you enter the church there is a staircase to your right that you can ascend and at the top is the very spot, the very rock that pilgrims visit to remember the crucifixion of our Lord.
Directly below that sits another little chapel. The chapel of Adam. Because according to a very early tradition Jesus was crucified in the same place that Adam was buried. And so you’ll notice that some depictions of the crucifixion feature a skull at the base of the cross. Because the new Adam brings salvation to the old Adam through his sacrificial love poured out on the cross. “It is finished.”
That is why this Friday is called Good. Because by his sacrificial love, by his suffering and death, he has done what we and Adam could not do. And he has done it so that we might live. He has undone the curse of Adam. Now, all who eat of the fruit of this tree, the tree of the cross, are healed and made whole. No longer children of Adam but children of God.
In other words, on the cross God makes death to the be the way of life. Christ’s death, to be sure. But also our own death. Death is no longer to be feared for death is the thing that God uses to make us fully human. And not just our death at some point down the road but every little death. Every suffering. Every act of self-giving love. Every time we pick up our cross and follow him, learning how to love and therefore how to die, we become more fully who God made us to be. Behold, the tree of defeat has become the tree of victory. +