Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reflection: "It is finished."

"It is finished."
Jesus' life is ending.  The women who had the courage to stay by the cross know it will be over soon.  His mother, who brought Him into the world, bears witness to His departure.  But Jesus is not just acknowledging that the end of His life has come.  He is announcing that His greatest work has been accomplished.

By His death, Jesus gives us forgiveness.  It is a basic precept of Christianity.  But it is the Resurrection that proves it, and the Resurrection is still days away.  So, given that it is returning from the dead that demonstrates what He has accomplished, in what sense is Jesus' work finished?

This statement parallels the first chapter of Genesis.  On the sixth day, God created humanity, and that was the completion of His work.  Then, He rested.  On Good Friday, the sixth day, Christ redeemed, or re-created, humanity.  Then, on Holy Saturday, He rested.

His whole ministry has led to this point.  He had been teaching the apostles, molding them into the men who would lead His Church, showing them by example how to love.  With His death, the foundation of the Church has been laid.  Now all that remains is to turn the work of building up the Church over to us.  Yes, He grants us the Spirit, and it is the Spirit that inaugurates the Church, but it is we Christians who have been commissioned.  The Holy Spirit works in us.

So, while Pentecost is the day the Church is born, Good Friday is the day the Church's development in the heart of Christ is finished.  We can imagine that the structure stands, silent, awaiting the mission.  The Church is ready to house all who draw near; we only wait for the Spirit to open the doors.

Another lesson to learn from this sixth word is that, no matter how severe it is, suffering does eventually end.  To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, Christ died and died and then death was over.  It was defeated, and new life began.  There is a certain point where we stretch, and bend, and crack, and then finally break, and then it is over.  Suffering ends.  If we unite ourselves to Christ, then the end is nothing to fear.

There are many endings in this life; each one leads to a new beginning.  Our hidden life in the womb ends, and our life as an infant begins.  Infancy becomes childhood, childhood grows into adolescence, and adolescence becomes adulthood.   Then adulthood matures into old age, and, finally, we die.  But then we enter into the new life Christ has prepared for us.  One could rightly say, "It is finished," at any of these junctures, but there would still be more left beyond the next beginning.  One word ends, the next begins.

Perhaps the most valuable wisdom we can gain from this word is the ability to recognize an ending for what it is, and then to further recognize that there is a new beginning beyond it.

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