It is finished

One of the top stories on this morning was an article written by Greg Garrison called, “Why do they call it Good Friday?”  It’s a great article and the author does a great job explaining context, theology, and tradition.  I appreciated the explanation and the question being asked in such a public way; however, I found myself taking it a different direction.  I wasn’t sure that even with the answers in front of me that I understood it.  Explaining the meaning of the cross of Jesus doesn’t help me to understand it.  I want to sit with it.  Wrestle with it.  I want to consider the cross and what Jesus’ last words, “It is finished” mean to me.

We have gotten slightly uncomfortable with mystery and I am the first to begin trotting with anxiety to my nearest Google search bar to satisfy my curiosity and questions.  This isn’t a question that google can answer.  Why is the day that God died a good day?  We can look up generations and ages of beautiful and thorough theological thoughts to find an adequate response, but in other ways it’s more a question of perspective and experience.  I am far away.  Any answer that I come up with wouldn’t be able to touch or respond to the agony and the grief of those crowds, disciples, and family members that gathered on that deadly hill and saw their Savior die.  To those witnesses, in that moment, there was very little that was good.  On that first day, the finality of the cross was crushing.  There wasn’t 2000 years of explanation to comfort us and tell us that everything is going to be alright, Sunday is coming.  I imagine when Mary went home that night, she didn’t thank God for grace and for forgiveness.  She was probably closer to feeling the words that she heard from her son, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  She probably had to be carried home from trauma rather than walking back in victory.  If Mary slept at all, it was out of exhaustion and grief rather than peace and assurance.  The comfort and anticipation that we have of a few days later was dead to her.

“It is finished.”  To us, those words are a transitional movement.  They are an accomplishment of one part of Christ’s ministry before another that starts with angels and large stones being rolled away.  To the disciples and others, “it is finished,” hung in the air like death.  Their thoughts immediately went to scattering and survival.  Let’s not distance ourselves too much though.  Even with over two millennia of story that tell us that everything is going to be alright, we know that feeling too well.  We know what hopelessness feels like.  Maybe we know the next chapter of the cross in our minds, but we all have moments in our lives that feel like we’re at the foot of that cross and our hope is stolen and murdered.  We’re not so far away.  We know how Friday can feel.

There are circumstances in this life that we don’t feel are ever going to change.  We can push, fight, cry, and yell all we want.  We can know all the right answers, even the disciples had been told it would be alright, but when you’re in the midst of a battle, it’s hard not to recognize that sinking feeling of death when you know you’re on the losing end.  You feel beaten.  You feel finished when the words from the cross echo through us, “It is finished.”  We are finished.

Sometimes hope is so very hard to see.   Sometimes hope looks like death.   But hope is not so easily finished.  The words that we take as loss and death keep ringing and hanging over us, too stubburn to fade away.  “It is finished.”  Those words contain the seeds of Good News.  They are not words about us.  They are words for us.  We are not finished yet.  Rather, the power that death and hopelessness had over us is finished.  The chains that addictions have over us is finished.  The power that anger and stress have over us to crush us and crush those around us is finished.  Every voice, diagnosis, and debt that told us that we are not capable of being made new again is finished.  It’s broken, helpless, and impotent.  We can know the explanations of why Good Friday is good, but until we’ve felt what it’s like to have what’s bent, broken, and dead in our lives redeemed and given a taste of recreation, our perspective of the cross will always fall short of eternal.

Our story stretches thousands of years to the cross of Jesus, and before that, to the first moments of creation when God wanted to be with us.  We are the ones who sit in a mystery.  We see beyond ourselves.  We look upon death and still see hope.  We are the ones who can look at a veiled, tortured and absent God and know that he is still king.  We are the ones that endure as a flickering light in the darkness so that others may see a sense of hope and steadiness.  On this Good Friday, rather than just answering the question, why is it good that God died, we can start to show the world.  We can be the ones who stand watch for three days and care for those who still tremble.  We can be the ones who leave here today with a story and a purpose that God is not finished with us yet.   A new day has come.  A new type of Friday.  A Good Friday.

*the feature picture is from Flickr image share sourced on Google images

I am thirsty

Taste has a way of taking us back.  A bite of home cooked bread, or the first sip of our favorite drink has a way of awakening a pool of memories and thoughts.  Within my family, occasions like New Years are remembered by the taste of smoked salmon and cheese fondue.  I can tell you whose birthday party I’m at by what kind of birthday cake is being served.  I even remember when my sisters and I were kids, the first time I ever had skim milk was at my grandmother’s house splashed over a bowl of Frosted Flakes.  I knew what my cereal was supposed to taste like and it wasn’t whatever was swimming around in my bowl.  To this day, I cannot stand the taste (or lack thereof) of skim milk, but I always remember that moment whenever I see a carton.  Taste has a way of tying us into our memories in a unique and powerful way.  In light of Holy Week and especially Maundy Thursday and the last supper, it’s fascinating what role and position taste plays in the story.  Let’s talk about the two last things Jesus tasted before he died.

In the gospel of John, the last request and the last sensation that Jesus has other than pain is taste.  His last statement of need or want is contained in John 19:28, “I am thirsty.”  When we look at the words in light of the last taste and the last cup that Jesus took for himself before this moment, they take on a significant position in the passion story.  It was presumably around the table with his disciples the night before, during the meal where Jesus shared broken bread and a cup of shared wine that Jesus experienced his last taste before the cross.   The wine at the table, he was surrounded by those he loved and cherished.  The sour wine at the cross soaked into a sponge suspended on a stick of hyssop, he was surrounded by guards and those filled with hate.

These two last drinks of wine bookend what the gospel of John calls Jesus’ final hour.  On the front end, the scriptures beginning in John 13 say, “Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.”  On the back end in 19:28, on the cross, when he asks for his last drink, it says, “When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’”  What lies between the wine at the table and the wine on the cross is the final lesson, the final commandment that Jesus left for his followers, and I believe left for us.  “Love one another.”  Love each other like I loved you.  This is how others will know that you are my disciples, by the way you love each other (John 13:31-35).

Jesus demonstrated most fully what this love looked like when during that final meal and around their last cup together, Jesus rose and took off his outer robe.  He tied a towel around his waist and began to wash his disciples’ feet.  After he finished, he put his robe back on, returned to the meal and told them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set an example that you should also do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).

With this last commandment and this last example of a love that is humble and deep, Jesus finalizes his preparation for the church.  Then, he gives it away.  He gives away the church to us.  He asks for us only to kneel, wrap a towel around our waist and serve each other out of the love that he has for us.  He asks us to love in such a way that when others who are searching and hurting say, “I am thirty”, rather than sour wine, they can find the source of living water and the cup that runs over with God’s grace.  It says they will know where to look by the way we love each other.

And so I wonder, as that sour wine, suspended on the stick of hyssop, as it wet his mouth, did the taste and wetness stir his memories as we know that taste does with ours?  Did scenes flash of his last drink with his friends?  Did the taste bring back through the pain and through the exhaustion a memory of the first moments of his ministry when he turned water into wine?  Wine to wine, a sense of completion through the agony.  One last, painful, futile, sour taste and human comfort before the end.  All was complete.  What he loved, the people, the church, are cared for and in another’s hands now.  Our hands. We continue the ministry and the life of God when we cannot see him and cannot find him with the help of the Holy Spirit and the help of each other.  We hold the kingdom in trust together, gathering around a table to remember and taste what God has done for us.  We break the bread of community and sacrifice and share the cup of salvation so that others may come and taste that the Lord is good.

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Shouting Louder Than Rocks

Palm Sunday is the day when all of the stories and the miracles begin to point in one focused, clear, direction, Jesus to Jerusalem, and then Jesus to the cross.  The movement of the story has brought us to the gates of the city of which Jesus will not leave until his ascension.  Roots of the story stretch back decades earlier, as the people yell, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.”  We are reminded of the chorus of heavenly angels that escorted Jesus into this world and announced his arrival saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace, goodwill among the people.”  Jesus is arriving to his death with the same purpose that he arrived in this life, to bring peace, salvation and life for us all.

Peace is a funny thing.  As we follow Jesus from the top of his donkey into Jerusalem, peace doesn’t seem to be what he stirs up.  In fact, Jesus begins to agitate a lot of the tension and friction that is already vibrating in the city as soon as he arrives.  The festival of Passover is just around the corner.  The city is filling with pilgrims and vendors and the Romans respond with more Soldiers, more Swords, and more rules.   The faithful and the political are gathering from all over the countryside to worship and remember liberation and God’s deliverance of His people from the hands of an oppressive empire.  Imagine the irony and the tension as the crowds of Jewish faithful celebrate their deliverance while still staring down the point of a Roman short sword.  “Remember, don’t celebrate your freedom, too freely now.”  Jesus doesn’t bring peace into this already heated tension.  His followers steal a donkey, though they insist it’s for a good cause.  His disciples stir up the crowd with revolutionary and bombastic chants.  Even, if we read ahead to the end of the chapter, the first thing Jesus once he arrives in the city is overthrow all the tables and cages in the temple and drive out the money changers.  Peace on earth indeed.

When we look beyond Jerusalem to the entire scope of Jesus’ life, not much has changed in terms of peace.  Jesus is still stirring up trouble and people are still trying to kill him for it.  Whether it’s one king or another, one religious authority or another, peace seems so elusive for this king that was supposedly going to change the world.  However, one small thing is different.  Maybe not the kings, guards, walls, and politics, but something significant and powerful.  The voices of the people are different.  The voices that are singing Jesus’ arrival are different.  They have taken up the song that the angels used to sing about Jesus.  What the shepherds were told about Jesus by angels is now the testimony of crowds of followers as Jesus rides into the city.  Here is the prince of peace, here is the king who has brought peace, (maybe not to the kingdom), but to my life.  Jesus is surrounded by a whole multitude of disciples that have learned from him, followed him, told stories about him, and they sing about him because their lives have peace.  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.”

As we spend time with Jesus, our voice changes.  As we experience the peace and love of God that we were once told about for the first time, our way of seeing the world and experiencing peace is forever changed.  We are like the crowds that gather around Jesus, where he was once announced by angels, he is now announced by sinners, broken people, sick people, depressed people, who have for a moment experienced exactly who Jesus said he was and now can’t help but tell the story and the good news of what God has done for us.  The angels song is now the people’s song.  They become so loud and so disruptive that the Pharisees tell Jesus to calm them and he says, “if they were silent, the stones would still cry out.”

We are the voice of what God has done in the world.  Speaking not only of how God has changed something within us, but that even now when we could be facing the worst week of our lives, we are the ones with the voice and the purpose to declare that we are at peace because we are free even in the face of circumstances that demand otherwise.  The empire has no power over us anymore.

As the season of Lent draws to a close, we are at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, a city that kills the prophets, and we still have a voice of hope.  We are the broken and bent ones who surround Jesus as he nears the city and declare that peace and hope have comes into the world.  We announce the arrival and the freedom of God, even when it’s hard to feel free.  What has God done for you?  What is your story that you declare with the way you lives your life.  What is worth waving your palm and laying down your coat?  What is your story of when God set you free?  Maybe it’s still unfolding and you’re willing to walk a ways to see where this road ends up.  I believe a walk with God ends in peace and hope and that’s a gift and story worth sharing.  Tell someone this week about how far you’ve come.  Share your story this week with a friend, a spouse, or a child and tell them that there’s hope in life even in the midst of chaos and violence.  If we don’t do it, the rocks will have to do it for us and surely we can shout louder than a rock.