Reflection 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
Such were, according to John, the last words of Jesus on the cross. As I pondered these words for this reflection, I fully intended to recount the myriad disasters we are inflicting on our common home, the wounds of the world’s crucifixion. The list is all too familiar, and it can only elicit a bitter cry of despair. But in John’s Gospel, there was no such cry from the crucified Christ, no cry of abandonment as in Mark. Instead, Jesus’ last breath in John conveys a sense of completion. How so?
The clue comes from the fact that Jesus’ last words (one word in Greek) point back to the beginning of creation, specifically the pronouncement that the “heavens and the earth were finished” (Genesis 2:1). As John alluded to the beginning of creation in the very first verse of his Gospel (“In the beginning . . .”), so John now alludes to creation’s completion with Jesus’ last breath on the cross. Herein lies a mystery: Christ’s incarnation and death somehow encapsulate the story of creation, from the beginning to the Sabbath (Gen 1:1-2:3). Christ’s ministry, in other words, is for all creation (see John 3:16). The Word made flesh for the world made of flesh.
Yes, it is important to recognize the wounds of the world through the wounds of the crucified Christ. But John adds a new wrinkle: when all is “finished,” whether God’s creation in Genesis or Jesus’ ministry in John, what comes next is Sabbath. More than in any other Gospel, John’s Jesus is a “sabbath breaker,” the one who promotes life by upending convention. And so the church, as the sign of the new creation, must step up as resistant, sabbath-practicing people for the sake of creation’s liberation. I never expected to find hope, let alone a call to action, on the cross, but John has shown me the way. What we have been given by God in Christ is “finished,” that is, deemed sufficient for us to move forward as God’s sabbath-practicing, earth-honoring people.
Prayer: God of life, God in Christ, wake us up from our slumber of denial. Grant us the eyes to see more fully the wounds of the world that we have inflicted. But do not lead us into despair. Grant us the hope of redemption and healing for all the world, and in such hope may we act accordingly to break the cycle of exploitation and extraction, of greed and aggression. May we move forward in sabbath wonder, grounded in your vision of shalom for all the world.
William P. Brown is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, author, biblical theologian, and the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.