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It is Finished

On the sixth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus (John 19:30)

Jesus cried out: “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he died.

But was it? Was it really finished?

Our Christian tradition teaches us that the sufferings of Christ continue in the lives of everyday people today.

Consider the sufferings imposed on those who are tortured, innocent people held in prisons and “detention facilities,” those who are starving to death, those without homes and who have lost limbs who continue to desperately rummage for food in the ruins of Port Au Prince.

And what of those who are enslaved, those who are persecuted, those who hunger and thirst for justice who are assassinated? What of the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement who were murdered in the South, innocent people blown apart in the subways of Moscow, the million people hacked to death in the Rwandan genocide, or the gay people of Uganda and Iran who face death today?

And today we cannot be blind to what we read about the escalating crisis of abuse in our Church, the tens of thousands of walking wounded of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil and who knows how many other places who were traumatized by priests, only to have their pain covered up by bishops and ignored by the Vatican? It was the great spiritual writer Romano Guardini who said that the Church is the cross on which Christ is crucified today.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a single saving act, the Incarnation. When we split it apart we can lose perspective. And one popular Christmas song seems to sum up the dichotomy of joy and hope faced with grief and anxiety:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

So begins the life of Jesus among us, and we are left with the same questions as he dies, saying “It is finished.”

No, Jesus, we want to say, it is not finished. Pain and hatred continue. Even as we sit here today there is injustice. We are ashamed of how the hierarchy of our Church has responded to the raping of children. We are in a recession; we have lost our jobs and our homes and our retirement savings. People fill our streets demanding the blood of Muslims. The Holy City, Jerusalem, whose very name means “peace” is torn by strife. Entire nations are in thrall to cruel dictators. Here in our own city we have homeless people dying in the streets and our neighbors die for lack of medical care. There is no peace on Earth.

But the Christmas song continues, offering us hope:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Here is a radical turn on words. Peace is not a feel-good promise we can sit back and wait for. Peace in our own hearts is what will bring peace to others. It will flow from us to solve the greatest problems we face.

So what is finished? What is finished is the meaninglessness of suffering.

You see, when he died, Jesus said it was all finished. There were atrocities and wars and genocide and enslavement before he died, and they continue after he died. But what was finished was our helplessness. We gained the ability to turn tragedy to triumph. And that is what it means to live in the resurrection.

Now we can begin to take part in God’s mysterious ways. We can help to turn grief to gladness, pain to power, humiliation to hope.

Tomorrow, those of you who will participate in the Easter Vigil will hear the deacon’s great Easter proclamation, the Exsultet, sung in the light of the Easter Candle that represents the Risen Jesus. And one of the most amazing lines of that proclamation goes like this:

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

O happy fault? Is that how we should describe the first act of disobedience to God? And yet it is. Because it became an opportunity for the love of God to be dramatically manifested to the world. For you. For me. For everyone who despairs.

Because you see, that is the nature of God, to take a fault and make it a festival.

In our Christian tradition, every ending is a beginning. And when Jesus said “It is finished,” he marked the end of one world view and the beginning of another. The end of his life on Earth meant the beginning of his life in a new way, as the Body of Christ, the Church. That’s you and me. The Church is not popes and cardinals. It’s you. And that’s why we have joy and hope, no matter how bleak things may seem because of the sins of the clergy today.

Tomorrow evening we will celebrate Easter. But let me remind you: the Easter season lasts 50 days. Every Sunday is a celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. Every baptism and every funeral is a celebration of the Resurrection. For 102 days out of 365 days each year we celebrate Resurrection. At the beginning of our lives we are initiated into Resurrection and at the end of our lives we are reminded of Resurrection.

What does that say to you?

Here’s what it says to me: that injustice is finished. War is finished. Discrimination is finished. Sin is finished. Doubt is finished. Oppression is finished. Sexual abuse is finished. Clericalism is finished. Homophobia is finished. Racism is finished. Torture is finished. Murder is finished. Poverty is finished. Homelessness is finished. Death is finished.

If only we will allow God to win. We can do it. We are the Body of Christ, the Church. We can say “It is finished.”

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